A California company whose raw milk Gouda-style cheese was the source of an E. coli outbreak that sickened at least 38 people in five states has now recalled its entire inventory.
The expanded recall of all Bravo Farms cheese was announced Tuesday by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The company said it began thorough testing of its cheese plant after E. Coli was found in its Gouda, and during those inspections Listeria monocytogenes and E.Coli O157:H7 bacteria were detected by the CDFA.
“Out of concern for any further contamination we have decided to further expand the recall to include all of our cheeses. Our customer’s safety and well being are our top priority, and this is the best way we can be sure we fulfill this obligation,” the company said in a news release.
Bravo Farms, one of the oldest makers of artisanal cheese in California, sells a variety of cheeses at retail stories throughout the United States, but primarily on the West Coast. In addition to its Dutch-style Gouda cheese, it also makes pepperjack, Tulare Cannonball (an Edam), Swiss Raclette and several flavors of cheddar.
To date, there have been no reports of illnesses associated with Listeria in Bravo Farm cheese.
The E. coli contamination, however, caused 15 people to be hospitalized and one of those developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal complication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 19 E. coli cases linked to the contaminated raw milk cheese have been confirmed in Arizona, 11 in Colorado, three in California and New Mexico, and two in Nevada.
All of those infected had tasted or bought the Bravo Farms Gouda between Oct. 5 and Nov. 1 during a cheese promotion hosted by Costco.
Laboratory tests by New Mexico health investigators later identified E. coli O157:H7 matching the outbreak strain in an unopened package of Bravo Farms Gouda cheese obtained from Costco, and additional lab tests found identical pathogens in opened packages at some of the patients’ homes.
There’s been no word so far on how the Bravo Farms cheese became contaminated with E. coli.
This year the FDA and state health departments have been taking a close look at cheese makers who use unpasteurized milk to make cheese, taking so-called “environmental samples” from their processing plants and equipment.
The regulators’ discovery of Listeria and other problems at some artisan cheese factories — notably the Estrella Family Creamery in Washington state and Morningland Dairy in Missouri – have led to standoffs with the cheese makers, who have refused to destroy their products.
The FDA has said it is not singling out makers of raw-milk or pasteurized cheese, but holds them to the same food safety standards as other food makers.
Listeria illnesses are uncommon but can kill up to one-fifth of those infected. Listeria is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn children, and those who are immunocompromised. The bacteria can be a particular problem once it gets into the marketplace and consumers’ homes, because it can survive and even flourish at refrigerator temperatures.