2 dead, 23 hospitalized from eating recalled cheese: CDC

(KRON) — Two people have died and 23 more were hospitalized after eating queso fresco and cojita cheese products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week. Several products containing these cheeses have been recalled due to a Listeria outbreak. The hospitalizations date back to 2014, but an investigation into the outbreak was recently re-launched.

In total, 26 people have gotten sick in 11 states. Eight of those sick cases and one death were in California, the CDC said.

There may be more sick people related to this outbreak, as it typically takes 3-4 weeks to determine whether a sickness is part of an outbreak, per the CDC. The true number of people affected is believed to be higher than 26 due to people not getting tested for Listeria.

The illnesses related to this outbreak started in 2014, according to the CDC. The CDC investigated the outbreak in 2017 and 2021 and re-launched it in January after new illnesses were reported in December 2023.

“WGS (whole genome sequencing) showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples from 2014 to present are closely related genetically. This suggests that people in this outbreak got sick from the same food,” the CDC said.

The company making the contaminated cheese is Rizo-Lopez Foods, which is based out of Modesto, according to the CDC. In January 2024, the Hawaii State Department of Health’s Food and Drug Branch conducted routine sampling on Rizo-Lopez cojita cheese and identified the outbreak strain of Listeria. The FDA inspected the Rizo-Lopez facility and found the outbreak strain on a container where cheeses are kept before they are packaged.

On Feb. 6, all cheese and dairy products made by Rizo-Lopez were recalled.

A handful of products containing these cheeses have been recalled, including several from Trader Joe’s. Amazon Kitchen’s Chicken Chili Verde Burrito and Fresh Express’ Salsa! Ensalada Salad Kit are among the others to be recalled.

Listeria is especially dangerous for people who are pregnant, older than 65 or have weakened immune systems, per the CDC. Symptoms can be felt as early as the day the contaminated food is eaten or as late as 10 weeks later.

If you bought a recalled product, here is what the CDC recommends:

  • Do not eat any recalled products.
    • Throw them away or return them to where you bought them.
  • Clean the refrigerator, containers, and surfaces that may have touched the recalled products.
    • Listeria can survive in the refrigerator and can easily spread to other foods and surfaces.
  • Call a healthcare provider right away if you have these symptoms after eating recalled products:
    • Pregnant people usually have fever, muscle aches, and tiredness.
    • People who are not pregnant usually have fever, muscle aches, and tiredness. They may also get a headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or seizures.

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