A multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections potentially linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses is under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local health departments.
The FDA initiated the investigation and is collecting information to help determine the source of the outbreak, according to an announcement this afternoon..
While the investigation is ongoing, CDC’s analysis of epidemiologic information indicates that Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses are the leading hypotheses for the cause of the illnesses. No specific type or brand of cheese has been confirmed as the source of illness.
CDC reported that seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported in four states — Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Virginia.
Six of the seven ill people are Hispanic. Of the four people interviewed, three reported eating at least one type of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses, and all three reported eating queso fresco before becoming ill.
The FDA is in the beginning stages of this investigation, and there may be additional products impacted by this outbreak. As this outbreak investigation continues, the FDA will provide additional updates as more information becomes available.
Anyone at higher risk for severe Listeria illness, including those who are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system because of certain medical conditions or treatments, should not eat any Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses such as like queso fresco, queso blanco, and queso panela, until investigators identify a specific type or brand that is making people sick.
Call a healthcare provider right away if you have these symptoms after eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses:
- Pregnant people typically experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
- People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
Generally, make sure the Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses like queso fresco you eat have labels that state it is made with pasteurized milk.
Be aware that Hispanic-style soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk also have caused Listeria outbreaks. Although the pasteurization of milk kills Listeria, products made from pasteurized milk can still become contaminated if they are produced or held in facilities with unsanitary conditions.
Restaurants and retailers that serve or sell Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses should follow FDA’s safe handling and cleaning advice.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here)