USA – Outbreak Investigation of Listeria monocytogenes – Hispanic-style Fresh and Soft Cheeses (February 2021)

FDA

The FDA, along with CDC and state and local partners, are investigating a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections potentially linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.

FDA has initiated an investigation and is collecting information to try to determine the source of the outbreak. Although 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 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 each of the three reported eating queso fresco.

As part of this outbreak investigation, the Connecticut Department of Public Health collected product samples of El Abuelito-brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses from a store where a sick person bought cheeses. Sample analysis showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in samples of El Abuelito Queso Fresco sold in 10 oz packages, marked as Lot A027 with an expiration date of 02/26/2021. 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.

Recommendations

Consumers, restaurants, and retailers should not eat, sell, or serve El Abuelito Queso Fresco cheese until more information is known.

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.

Call your 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, “Made with pasteurized milk.”

Be aware that Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk have caused Listeria outbreaks. Although pasteurization of milk kills Listeria, products made from pasteurized milk can still become contaminated if they are produced 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.


Case Count Map Provided by CDC

CDC Case Count Map for the Outbreak Investigation of Listeria monocytogenes in Hispanic-style Fresh and Soft Cheeses - 2/12/2021

Case Counts

Total Illnesses: 7
Hospitalizations: 7
Deaths: 0
Last Illness Date: 1/22/2021
States with Cases: MD (4), CT (1), NY (1), and VA (1)

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