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California testing confiscated cheese; outbreak continues

California officials continue to investigate a five-month Salmonella outbreak they believe is connected to Mexican-style soft cheeses and are testing cheese seized from Bakersfield woman’s home.

Grace Martinez told BakersfieldNow.com that the 30 packages of cheese officials took from her home were brought to the U.S. by her family members from Sinaloa, Mexico. She sells the cheese to the general public via the Internet.

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The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) does not yet have results from pathogen testing being conducted on the cheese, department spokesman Steve Lyle said Monday. He said department policy prohibits the discussion of investigation details.

In addition to the cheese, stat officials also confiscated cell phones and other electronic devices from the Martinez home, according to BakersfieldNow.com. Martinez told the online publication she has been selling the cheese since November 2015, but that she doesn’t believe it is connected to the Salmonella outbreak because it is hard cheese.

Soft, Mexican-style cheese was the target of a state warning in mid-March when the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) revealed it had been tracking a Salmonella outbreak for several months.

“Since November 2015, at least 50 patients have been infected with three different strains of Salmonella,” according to the March 17 warning. “No deaths have been reported, but hospitalization has been required in several cases.

“The investigation into these cases is ongoing, but several patients have reported consuming potentially unpasteurized Mexican-style cheese purchased from street vendors before they became ill.”

In late March, officials in Kern County, where Bakersfield is located, reported seven people had become ill from eating soft-cheese products. The county officials reported all seven reported eating illegal Mexican cheese from an unapproved vendor.

The CDPH warning specifically warned against eating cheeses from street vendors, who frequently sell illegally manufactured Mexican-style cheese.

“These cheeses are often made with raw, unpasteurized milk and under unsanitary conditions,” CDPH Director Dr. Karen Smith said in the warning. “We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of reported Salmonella cases, particularly in the Hispanic community.”

Symptoms of Salmonella infection include fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea that may be bloody. While most individuals recover in four to seven days without medical intervention, some may develop complications that require hospitalization.

Infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for more severe illness. CDPH recommends consumers experiencing any ill effects after consuming soft cheeses should consult their health care provider.

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