A soft, raw milk cheese from New York state is being blamed for sickening six people and leading to two deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which, along with other federal and state agencies, is investigating the multistate Listeria outbreak linked to the recalled cheese.
You’re as likely to get listeriosis from pasteurized cheese products, frozen vegetables, or deli meat as you are from unpasteurized cheese.
According to the CDC, there have been six reported cases of listeriosis between Sept.1, 2016 and Jan. 22, in New York, Vermont, Florida, and Connecticut that are all linked to a cheese called Ouleout made by Vulto Creamery in Walton, N.Y. All six people were hospitalized and two people—one from Connecticut and one from Vermont—died. Those sickened range in age from less than a year old to 89, and five of the six were women.
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause muscle aches, fever, gastrointestinal issues, and even death in the most serious cases. The very young or very old and people with compromised immune systems are the most at risk. About 1,600 people in the U.S. are sickened by the bug annually, leading to about 260 deaths per year.
“Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicate that soft raw milk cheese made by Vulto Creamery of Walton, New York, is the likely source of this outbreak,” according to the CDC release. “The outbreak strain of Listeria was identified in samples taken from three intact wheels of Ouleout cheese collected from Vulto Creamery.”
On Tuesday, the cheese company voluntarily recalled all lots of Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie, and Willowemoc soft washed-rind raw milk cheeses. The cheeses had been distributed nationwide, with the majority sold on the East Coast, and also California, Chicago, Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. The CDC recommends that consumers “do not eat, restaurants do not serve, and retailers do not sell recalled soft raw milk cheeses made by Vulto Creamery.”
Federal investigators relied on a variety of factors in determining that the cheese was the culprit. All the patients reported eating soft cheese before being sickened and Vulto Creamery’s cheese was for sale at stores where at least five of the people purchased cheese before contracting listeriosis, according to the CDC. Additionally, the Connecticut department of public health found Ouleout cheese from Vulto Creamery in the home of one of the two people who died from lisertiosis.
The fact that the cheese was made with unpasteurized milk is getting a lot of play in the media, but pasteurization doesn’t always prevent the bacteria’s growth. You’re as likely to get listeriosis from pasteurized cheese products, frozen vegetables, or deli meat. Last month, there was a large-scale recall of pasteurized cheese made by Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC, of Middlebury, Indiana, for several companies including MDS Foods Inc., Sara Lee, Sargento, and Country Fresh due to possible Listeria contamination. The list of recalled products included grated cheese, pre-made salads, and stuffed mushrooms. In that case, there were no reported cases of listeriosis from the recalled products.
Meanwhile, scientists are looking into ways to try to stop Listeria outbreaks, including a novel use of avocado seeds, which has shown promise in inhibiting Listeria growth.