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Listeria Problem Shuts Down a Washington Cheese Company

A Washington state cheese maker plagued with Listeria problems, including a link to a case of listeriosis in 2010, has agreed to keep its products off the market until it can clean up its processing facility and prove its cheeses are safe to eat, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

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As part of a consent decree, Del Bueno owner Jesus Rodriguez agreed to a permanent injunction entered by the Eastern District Court of Washington on April 3.

Under the agreement, according to the FDA, Del Bueno cannot process or distribute food until it demonstrates that it has a control program underway to eliminate Listeria monocytogenes from its production facility and products.

The Grandview company, which makes pasteurized milk cheeses, must, among other actions:

– hire an independent laboratory to collect and analyze samples for the presence of Listeria,

– retain an independent sanitation expert

– develop a Listeria-control program for all employees in both English and Spanish

– destroy all food items currently in the facility

Once the company is permitted to resume operations, the FDA said it may still require recalls or order it to cease production if future violations occur.

“When a company continues to produce food that presents a risk for consumers, the FDA will take action,” said Dara A. Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, in a news release. “We will not hesitate to protect the public’s health.”

Del Bueno has a history of problems with Listeria contamination.

In April, 2010, Del Bueno recalled packages of its queso fresco cheese after Washington state officials found contaminated cheese during routine sampling, and then linked it to the illness.

Another recall in November, 2010 involved queso fresco, queso panela and ricotta cheeses after test results revealed that the cheeses were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and inspectors found the same strain of the bacteria in the processing facility.

An April 2011 warning letter to Del Bueno from the FDA suggested that Listeria may have established “niche areas” in the cheese-making plant. “The presence of a persistent strain of L. monocytogenes in your facility between March 2010 and November 2010, is significant in that it demonstrates that sanitation efforts were inadequate to remove this organism,” the inspectors wrote.

Listeria can be a persistent problem in food-processing plants once it becomes established, and it can flourish under refrigeration.

In September, 2011 Del Bueno again had to issue a recall after the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) detected Listeria contamination.

According to the FDA announcement Monday, since 2009 federal and state inspectors have documented “numerous deficiencies” in Del Bueno’s processing facility and repeatedly advised Rodriguez of the unsanitary conditions there.

Listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes, can be serious and sometimes can cause fatal infections in young children, frail or older people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may experience only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, Listeria infection in pregnant women can cause miscarriage and stillbirth.

Although no illnesses have been reported in 2012 from Del Bueno products, the FDA is advising individuals who have eaten the company’s products and experienced any of the symptoms of listeriosis to contact their health care professional. 

© Food Safety News