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‘Mr. Cheese’ Fined $500 for Homemade, Tainted Queso Fresco

Utah regulators have cited and fined Fidel Gomez – who they initially dubbed “Mr. Cheese” — for an illegal home cheese-making enterprise linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Newport.

According to a Utah Department of Health news release, Gomez was fined $500 for manufacturing and distributing a dairy product without a permit, license or proper sanitation equipment, violations of the Utah Dairy Act, and was cited for not labeling his cheese.

Gomez came under suspicion after numerous cases of Salmonella Newport were linked to queso fresco cheese, including some sold at a Salt Lake valley restaurant. The number of lab-confirmed infections linked this year was 42, the health department said.

Health officials earlier said unreported cases may have numbered in the thousands over a three-year period.

After a samples of queso fresco collected at a restaurant were tested and resulted in a positive DNA match with the outbreak strain, the restaurant owner identified his queso fresco source from a photo lineup, and called him “Mr. Cheese.”

The Utah Department of Health issued a cease and desist on Oct. 12, 2011 after visiting Gomez’s home and finding various violations of regulations regarding cheese making.

Authorities previously said they were unsure where Gomez obtained the milk he used to make cheese, and also that the milk may not have been the source of the Salmonella.

“Any food prepared in his home had a risk of becoming contaminated with Salmonella Newport,” they explained. “Thus, we cannot say that any particular milk or other food was contaminated prior to him purchasing it.”

“The Division of Regulatory Services urges consumers to not purchase foods that are unlabeled and to exercise caution when purchasing food from door-to-door salespeople, and at other locations where food is not ordinarily sold,” the news release states.

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