Pursuit to a 16-page plea agreement that leaves little to the imagination, a former raw milk cheese manufacturer and the company he owned and managed pleaded guilty today to charges related to cheese that was linked to a deadly outbreak of listeriosis.

Johannes Vulto and his company, Vulto Creamery LLC, are scheduled for sentencing on July 9 at the U.S. Courthouse in Syracuse, NY.  The maximum sentence for the single misdemeanor count is one year imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and one year of supervised release plus a 5-year term of court supervision.

The plea agreement requires a payment of $100,000 from Vulto and a one-year supervised release to begin after any imprisonment.

Following an investigation by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the misdemeanor charge of  Introducing Adulterated Food into Interstate Commerce was filed on Jan. 30, 2024, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

The criminal information filing said that from in or around July 2014, through and including on or about March 4, 2017, in Delaware County in the Northern District of New York, and elsewhere,  defendant Johannes Vulto “did cause the introduction of food into interstate commerce, namely cheese produced at Vulto Creamery that was adulterated because it was prepared, packed, and held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health under Title 21, United States Code. . .”

Johannes Vulto and his company, Vulto Creamery LLC, each pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. 

Vulto oversaw operations at Walton, NY’s Vulto Creamery manufacturing facility, including sanitation and environmental monitoring. In pleading guilty, Vulto and Vulto Creamery admitted that between December 2014 and March 2017, they caused the shipment of adulterated cheese in interstate commerce.

According to the plea agreement, environmental swabs taken at the Vulto Creamery facility between approximately July 2014 and February 2017 repeatedly tested positive for Listeria species. The Listeria family includes harmless species and Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause human listeriosis. 

In March 2017, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linked Vulto Creamery’s cheese to an outbreak of listeriosis, Vulto shut down the Vulto Creamery facility and issued a partial recall that was expanded to a full recall within weeks. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the listeriosis outbreak resulted in eight hospitalizations and two deaths.

“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they buy are safe to eat,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The department will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold responsible food manufacturers that sell dangerously contaminated products.”

“This investigation and prosecution holds accountable the defendant and his business who through unsafe practices caused illness and death to consumers in an entirely preventable tragedy,” said U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman for the Northern District of New York. “The law enforcement and regulatory partners involved in this case will continue to work together to bring to justice those who endanger the public through unsafe and unsanitary products and facilities.”

“U.S. consumers rely on the FDA to ensure that their food is safe and wholesome,” said Special Agent in Charge Fernando McMillan of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations New York Field Office. “When companies and individuals put themselves above the law by producing food that endangers and harms the public, as occurred in this case, we will see that they are brought to justice.” 

Listeriosis is a severe, invasive illness that can sometimes be life-threatening. Persons with the most significant risk of experiencing listeriosis due to consumption of foods contaminated with L. monocytogenes are pregnant women and their newborns, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Vulto and Vulto Creamery pleaded guilty before federal Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks in Syracuse, NY.   Senior Trial Attorney James T. Nelson of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry for the Northern District of New York prosecuted the case.

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