Federal officials have identified at least one brand of cheese of interest in their investigation of an outbreak of Listeria infections. The FDA is warning that consumers, restaurants and retailers should not eat, sell, or serve El Abuelito brand queso fresco cheese.
The Food and Drug Administration has been working on the outbreak investigation with agencies in several states. This evening the FDA announced that the Connecticut Department of Public Health collected product samples of El Abuelito-brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses from a store where an outbreak patient bought cheeses.
“Sample analysis showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in samples of El Abuelito Queso Fresco sold in 10-ounce packages, marked as Lot A027 with an expiration date of 02/26/2021,” according to the FDA’s outbreak update. “Samples are currently undergoing Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis to determine if the Listeria monocytogenes found in these samples is a match to the outbreak strain. At this time, there is not enough evidence to determine if this outbreak is linked to El Abuelito Queso Fresco.
“FDA and state partners are working with the firm to recall the affected lot and to determine if additional products should be recalled. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.”
Although the FDA is stopping short of saying there is a concrete link to the El Abuelito cheese, it is warning consumers to not eat it. The agency also warns that other soft, Hispanic-style cheese may be implicated in the multi-state outbreak.
“Consumers, restaurants, and retailers should not eat, sell, or serve El Abuelito Queso Fresco cheese until more information is known,” FDA warns. “If you are at higher risk for severe Listeria illness — if you are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or treatments — do not eat any Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses, including El Abuelito brand queso fresco cheese, until we identify which cheeses are making people sick in this outbreak.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported in Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Virginia.
All seven patients have required hospitalization. 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 each of the three reported eating queso fresco.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)