The owner of a dairy company in Switzerland that was behind a fatal Listeria outbreak has received a suspended prison sentence.

A district court in Schwyz gave the verdict of a conditional sentence of 24 months and a fine for the cheese producer.

From 2018 to 2020, the Listeria outbreak killed 10 people and was linked to pasteurized cheese products. The outbreak also caused 34 laboratory-confirmed cases.

In March 2024, the public prosecutor’s office in Schwyz said it had completed the criminal investigation that began in August 2020 against the owner of the cheese factory. Käserei Vogel was closed by the business owner in 2020.

Charges were brought in 20 cases, including negligent homicide, negligent bodily harm, and violation of the Food Act. Proceedings were dropped in 10 instances and in four cases, the personal details of those affected were not known.

Outbreak details
In 2018, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health opened an investigation after listeriosis cases rose. However, officials could not identify a suspected food, and the vehicle of infection remained unknown.

Another spike in infections occurred in early 2020. In April 2020, Käserei Vogel reported to the cantonal laboratory that Listeria monocytogenes had been detected in a sample of soft brie cheese made from pasteurized milk. Whole-genome sequencing revealed that the cheese isolate matched the outbreak strain.

Environmental sampling at the production site of Käserei Vogel found Listeria monocytogenes in 11 of 50 samples, and five sequenced isolates matched the outbreak strain. Officials found sanitation shortcomings and persistent environmental contamination at the production site.

In May 2020, 26 items, including brie, sheep and goat cheese, and organic cheeses, were recalled, and production was stopped. The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) issued a public warning in the same month advising people not to consume affected products.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)