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Listeria Found Inside Brooklyn Cheese Facility

Last summer Brooklyn’s Azteca Linda Corp. was busy recalling cheese for Listeria monocytogenes contamination.  Now a new Jan. 7 warning letter from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to Azteca Linda Corp. tells the rest of the story.

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Azteca’s Queso Fresco (Fresh White Cheese) and Queso Hebra (Fresh White String Cheese) were subject to a July 1 recall after FDA, during an inspection, found that the products were contaminated with Listeria.  But the warning letter released Tuesday says FDA also found Listeria inside the plant.

“Once established in a production area, humans or machinery can facilitate the pathogen’s movement to and contamination of food contact surfaces and finished product,” FDA said in the warning letter.

In releasing its findings, FDA was especially critical of Azteca’s cleaning and sanitizing operations for utensils and equipment and for its inadequate hand sanitizing.

Here is what FDA told Azteca about what it found inside the plant:

“Nine environmental swabs collected on June 7, 2010 from your facility tested positive for L. monocytogenes, These swabs were collected from: a cracked and pitted floor with standing water directly beneath the stainless steel Queso Fresco table #1, which is located along the west wall of processing room; the stainless steel wall on the right side above the stainless steel Queso Fresco table #2, which is located along the west wall of the processing room; standing water in the cracked and missing floor tile  on the floor next to Queso Fresco table # 2; standing water in the cracked and pitted floors beneath the pasteurizer near the northwest corner of the processing room; broomstick bristles of the black broom in the northeast corner of the processing room; inside and underneath the black dust pan stored in the northeast corner of the processing room; standing water in front of the exit door on the north wall of the processing room, the area between and underneath the right side of Queso Fresco table #1, and the area between and underneath the left side of Queso Fresco table #1.

“In addition, three environmental swabs collected on August 25, 2010 from your facility tested positive for L. monocytogenes. These swabs were collected from: the surface of the front edge of the stainless steel Queso Fresco production table #1 located along the west wall of the processing room; the surface of the front edge of the stainless steel Queso Fresco production table #2 located along the west wall of the processing room; and the area between and underneath the stainless steel Queso Fresco production table #2 after the table top was removed for cleaning (left side).  L. monocytogenes found in the environment of your facility increases the risk of your finished product becoming contaminated.” 

Analysis using Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) showed that L. monocytogenes isolates obtained from the FDA environmental samples collected on June 7, 2010, and August 25, 2010, at Azteca were indistinguishable by both a primary and secondary enzyme.  When a PFGE pattern of an isolate is indistinguishable from the pattern of another isolate from a common source, it is highly likely that two isolates are the same strain of L. monocytogenes. 

“These PFGE results suggest that L. monocytogenes may have been transported throughout your facility and established niche areas. The presence of a persistent strain of L. monocytogenes in your facility over time is significant in that it demonstrates that sanitation efforts were inadequate to remove this pathogenic organism.”

Since the July recall, FDA also took notice of another Azteca recall prompted by a state.

“We also note that the Rhode Island Department of Health reported the following finished product samples as positive for L. monocytogenes: Queso El Azteca brand of ‘Queso Fresco (Fresh White Cheese)’ with the expiration dates of 9/11/10 and 9/12/10; and Queso El Azteca brand of ‘Requeson (Ricotta Cheese)’ with the expiration date of 9/19/10,” the FDA warning letter says.

FDA’s New York district office gave Azteca 15 days to respond listing the corrective actions it will take to come into compliance with federal food safety regulations.

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