What started as a relatively small-scale recall for cheeses that may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria has now grown into a multi-state health alert and expanded recall effort. The cheeses, which were sold under a variety of brand names, are Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses produced and distributed by El Abuelito Cheese, based out of New Jersey.
In a new announcement, the company explains that additional products have now been included in the recall, including cheese with sell-by dates extending through the middle of April. With a lot of cheese already recalled, this new announcement is a significant expansion of that effort, and anyone who purchased the cheese should do their best to identify and dispose of it immediately.
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This entire mess began with a small-scale Listeria outbreak. Originally affecting just 7 people, the outbreak was still significant in that the strain of Listeria that was identified had been spotted in individuals from multiple states. All 7 of the original Listeria patients had to be hospitalized for their illnesses, and the FDA and USDA worked to identify the source.
It soon became clear that El Abuelito Cheese was strongly linked to the outbreak, with customers having eaten cheeses distributed by the company under a variety of different brand names. The CDC worked with the Connecticut Department of Public Health to identify the genome of the Listeria bacteria present in the cheese in order to help further track its spread.
Via the FDA:
On 2/19/2021, Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis conducted by the Connecticut State Laboratory determined that the Listeria monocytogenes found in the samples is a match to the outbreak strain.
As this latest bulletin notes, the newly-expanded recall includes cheeses sold under the following brand names: El Abuelito Cheese, El Viejito, El Paisano, El Sabrosito, La Cima, Quesos Finos, San Carlos, and Ideal. The products were sold in packages ranging from 12oz. to 14lbs, and were distributed to Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland.
El Abuelito has ceased the production and distribution of the product as FDA and El Abuelito continue their investigation as to what caused the problem.
Consumers who have purchased the stated Queso Fresco, Quesillo (Oaxaca, string cheese), and Requeson (Ricotta) products are urged not to consume and to return product to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Alternatively, you could just throw the cheese away. This might ultimately be a better option, as the FDA notes that cross-contamination can occur with products that are contaminated with bacteria such as Listeria. If you opened the cheese, anything it touched could potentially be home to the nasty microorganisms until it is sanitized. If you have any of this cheese in your home, take care to dispose of it properly, whether that means taking it in for a refund or just tossing in the garbage can.
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