The Mexicali Cheese Corp. processing facility in Woodhaven, NY is contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes in at least five locations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says.

FDA inspected the cheese processing facility after New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker on Aug. 6 warned consumers in the Queens County, NY area not to consume any Queso Cotija Cheese from Mexicali because of possible Staphylococcus aureus contamination.

FDA collected environmental swabs from inside the plant during the consumer alert and recall, returning positive samples for L. monocytogenes in five locations.

In an Oct. 27 warning letter, FDA told Mexicali it should take prompt action to correct its violations or prepare to face other regulatory actions including possible product seizures and/or injunction.

A week before the warning letter was sent to Mexicali, all cheese products from the Estella Family Creamery in Washington State were seized by U.S. Marshals executing a sealed court order obtained by FDA.

In-plant L. mono contamination was also found at the Washington State cheese processing facility, which refused to volunteer for a recall.

At Mexicali, In addition to the positive environmental swabs, FDA found long list violations.   Among those were:

— An employee with soiled garments and soiled rubber boats was cleaning the pasteurizer

— An employee using a hose to spray down equipment, the floor, and plastic crates was allowing water to splash up into food contact surfaces and into an uncovered bin of ready-to-eat Queso Fresco cheese.

— Blue plastic crates were not being properly cleaned and sanitized.

— As bins were being filled with ready-to-eat Queso Fresco, the cheese was coming into contact with an unsanitized wall.

— The Queso Fresco was also coming into contact with an unsanitized sink basin.

— Uncovered product was being wheeled through pooled water.

— Product was also coming contact with a plastic strip curtain between the production and storage rooms.

— Food handlers were wiping perspiration from their faces with their bare forearms, which then came into contact with the product.

— A suitable sanitizing solution was not being used on surfaces and utensils.

— The floor in the production room was uneven, allowing water to pool, and floor drains were uneven and pitted.

— Food handlers were wearing unsecured necklaces that could fall into food during production.

— Hand-washing procedures were not adequate.

— Screening on a rear door was torn, allowing flies and other pests to enter.

— Outside the rear door, unused equipment and construction debris was creating a harborage site for rodents, insects, and other pests.

FDA’s New York district office is giving Mexicali 15 working days to respond “with steps you have taken to correct noted violations, including explanation of each step being taken to prevent the recurrence of similar violations.”