1 dead, 4 sick in 2014: Miami cheese producer jailed for 15 months

On August 4, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. voluntarily recalled quesito casero (fresh curd) due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

oasis-listeria-oct_-14On October 6, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. recalled cuajada en hoja (fresh curd) after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isolated Listeria monocytogenes from environmental samples collected from the production facility.

Whole-genome sequences of the Listeria monocytogenes strains isolated from recalled quesito casero cheese produced by Oasis Brands, Inc. were found to be highly related to sequences of Listeria strains isolated from one person who became ill in September 2013 and four persons who became ill during June through October 2014.

These five ill persons were reported from four states: Georgia (1), New York (1), Tennessee (2), and Texas (1).

Four of the five ill persons were hospitalized. One death was reported in Tennessee. Three illnesses were related to a pregnancy – one of these was diagnosed in a newborn.

All ill persons were reported to be of Hispanic ethnicity and reported consuming Hispanic-style soft cheese. Two persons who were able to answer questions about specific varieties of Hispanic-style soft cheeses reported consuming quesito casero, though neither could remember the brand.

According to Andrea Torres of ABC Channel 10, after making promises to the feds, Christian Rivas knew he was distributing cheese with listeria and did so anyway.

Rivas was in federal prison Nov. 11, 2016 and faced 15 moths in prison after federal prosecutors armed with the results of CDC tests and FDA inspections were ready to show consumers were “fraudulently led to believe” the cheese was safe to eat when it wasn’t. 

Before the criminal case, authorities recalled 15 of their “Lacteos Santa Martha ” products targeting Central American migrants in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. The list included the “Queso Seco Olanchano,” the “Queso Seco Hondureno,” the  “Queso Cuzcatlan,” and the “Crema Guatemalteca.”

Rivas plead guilty to charges that he acted with an “intent to defraud and mislead, delivered cheese processed and packed at the Oasis facility into interstate commerce that was adulterated,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola sentenced Rivas to 15 months in prison.  

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Justin Green, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), Miami Field Office, announced the sentencing

“We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put the public’s health at risk by allowing contaminated foods to enter the U.S. marketplace,” Green said. 

Raw cheese firm faces the bugs: Drops legal action over E. coli investigation

After all the posturing and posing, Humphrey Errington, founder of Errington Cheese, now says he is no longer seeking a judicial review of the Food Standards Scotland’s (FSS) decision to impose a blanket ban on all his products after finding strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

dunsyre-blue-cheeseA child died after contracting the illness, which affected a total of 20 people in July this year. Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said Dunsyre Blue, made by Errington Cheese, was the “most likely cause”.

Mr Errington said the firm had also been offered a meeting with FSS to resolve their differences. “We have accepted that,” he said.

“It’s a major ‘back off’ off from them,” he added. “It’s a big, big step but it’s far from getting us back in the market. Our aim is get them to see that our cheese is not a risk to health.”

Pasteurization works.

Mr Errington always claimed there was “no evidence” linking its cheese to the outbreak and it accused the FSS of opposing the production of unpasteurised milk cheese.

After the legal challenge to the order was dropped, the watchdog confirmed it had issued a revised order in relation to Errington Cheese products. It stressed that the full product withdrawal remains in place as the cheeses are “regarded as a risk to health”.

A statement from the company said: “Errington Cheese Limited embarked upon a judicial review against Food Standards Scotland for two main reasons.

“Firstly, because we were clear that it was unlawful for FSS to have ordered the destruction of our cheeses on September 14 and secondly because we believed it was incumbent as a matter of fairness for FSS to share the evidence which they have been relying on with us.

“We are pleased to report that it has now been recognised that the destruction of our cheese was unwarranted and unnecessary and that FSS has finally started to share the evidence which they possess with us.”

In a statement, Food Standards Scotland confirmed that samples taken from different batches of different cheeses tested positive for E. coli O157 and for other strains of the bacteria.

FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle said: “This outbreak led to one fatality and 11 people being hospitalised. This was a major food incident where there was a significant risk to public health, with a tragic outcome. We have therefore decided to release the three versions of our risk assessment, each undertaken as new information became available, as well as our final risk management decision document.”

In a food safety information vacuum, anyone can say anything.

I understand there are uncertainties, legal implications, and a general fear that people don’t understand science, but if a regulator is going to shut down a business they need to make their case publicly – or others will do it for them (and they won’t like the result).

It’s a messy, modern world for regulators, but they, like scientists and everyone else, must be prepared to be held legally, politically and publicly accountable for their actions.

War is just a tweet away.

Everyone must be held accountable.

The actions described below should be incorporated into routine public health policy.

And by going public, the company backed off its ridiculous claims.

Geoff Ogle said a few days ago,, “Given the understandable level of interest and press coverage regarding the E. coli O157 outbreak linked to products from Errington Cheese Ltd, FSS has taken the decision that it is in the public interest to publish the information that we have used to inform our decision-making with regards to this incident.

“This outbreak led to one fatality and 11 people being hospitalised. This was a major food incident where there was a significant risk to public health, with a tragic outcome.

“We have therefore decided to release the , each undertaken as new information became available, as well as our final risk management decision document. Of particular relevance is the summary of the circumstances and information available to us at 14 September when FSS decided to undertake a full recall of all Errington Cheese Ltd products. The risk management document of 8 November 2016 sets out our conclusions at paragraphs 15-18 based on the risk assessments we have undertaken.

“I have seen a number of comments today and over the past weeks about this incident which FSS does not recognise nor accept. Reference to recent legal actions should not be about claiming any sort of victory given the consequences of the E. coli O157 outbreak. There is nothing to celebrate and this was never a vendetta against the rights to make, sell and consume cheese made from raw milk, nor against Errington Cheese Ltd. Given all that has happened it is sad to see this being portrayed as such in some quarters.

“Finally, I want to put on record my thanks to all FSS staff involved, and to our partner organisations who have supported our endeavours in managing this incident for their magnificent efforts. Their entire focus has been on protecting public health and making the right decisions based on the evidence we had. Scotland is fortunate to have such dedicated public servants.”

Go public.

War is just a tweet away.

Blessed are the cheese-makers: Storm parliament in NZ

A small-scale cheese maker is hauling her raw milk cheese to Parliament.

florida-swampKatikati’s Mount Eliza Cheese owner Jill Whalley says New Zealand artisan producers of raw milk cheese find high compliance costs crippling – about $60 a kilo.

That makes European products cheaper to import and it’s not fair, she says.

The Food and Safety Reform Bill is currently under consideration by a select committee.

“We want a level playing field,” says Whalley.

She believes it’s prohibitive to a thriving artisan cheese industry.

“If they took the same approach to road safety as they do to food safety, we would all have to drive at three miles per hour, with a person in front waving a red flag.”

Whalley argues pastuerisation destroys the milk’s good bacteria which protects the cheese from harmful bacteria.

Small cheese makers have greater control over hygiene and other variables and can prevent it from happening, Whalley says.

I also have some land in Florida you may want buy.

Raw milk cheese can really suck

Fresh cheeses are a main garnish of Mexican food. Consumption of artisanal fresh cheeses is very common and most of them are made from unpasteurised cow milk.

unknownA total of 52 fresh unpasteurised cheeses of five different types were purchased from a variety of suppliers from Tabasco, Mexico. Using the most probable number method, 67% and 63% of samples were positive for faecal coliforms and E. coli, respectively; revealing their low microbiological quality.

General hygienic conditions and practices of traditional cheese manufacturers were poor; most establishments had unclean cement floors, all lacked windows and doors screens, and none of the food-handlers wore aprons, surgical masks or bouffant caps. After analysing all E. coli isolates (121 strains) for the presence of 26 virulence genes, results showed that 9 (17%) samples were contaminated with diarrheagenic E. coli strains, 8 harboured non-O157 Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC), and one sample contained both STEC and diffusely ad-herent E. coli strains. All STEC strains carried the stx1 gene. Potential uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) strains were isolated from 15 (29%) samples; the most frequent gene combination was fimA-agn43. Two samples were contaminated with Salmonella. The results demonstrated that unpasteurised fresh cheeses produced in Tabasco are of poor microbiological quality and may frequently harbour foodborne pathogens.

Food safety authorities in Mexico need to conduct more rigorous surveillance of fresh cheeses. Furthermore, simple and inexpensive measures as establishing programs emphasizing good hand milking practices and hygienic manufacturing procedures may have a major effect on improving the microbiological quality of these food items.

Mexican unpasteurised fresh cheeses are contaminated with Salmonella spp., non-O157 Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli and potential uropathogenic E. coli strains: A public health risk

International Journal of Food Microbiology 237 (2016) 10–16, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2016.08.018

R Guzman-Hernandez, A Contreras-Rodriguez, R Hernandez-Velez, I Perez-Martinez, A Lopez-Merino, MB Zaidi, T Estrada-Garcia

Unpasteurized cheese making record number sick in Texas

Claire Z. Cardona of The Dallas Morning News reports a record number of people in Dallas County have been sickened from an infection caused by consuming unpasteurized cheese, health officials said. 

brucellosisThere have been 13 brucellosis infections in residents so far this year, affecting patients between 6 and 80 years old, according to a health advisory released Thursday

All of the patients reported eating the cheese brought into the U.S. from Mexico by friends or relatives, consuming the cheese while traveling in Mexico or eating unidentified cheese products from local street vendors, officials said. 

The county typically sees two to six cases a year, though 11 were recorded in 2004. 

Health officials confirmed all the Dallas County cases by blood culture. In two instances, hospital lab personnel were exposed while handling the samples. 

The Brucella bacteria can infect livestock and is most commonly transmitted to humans who consume the unpasteurized dairy products. Some areas, such as Mexico and Central and South America, are considered high-risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

New cheese alert after child’s E. coli death

A three-year-old girl from Dunbartonshire who died from E. coli O157 was among 20 confirmed cases that emerged in July and linked to Dunsyre Blue cheese made by South Lanarkshire-based Errington Cheese.

e-coli-o157-cheeseOn Saturday, Food Standards Scotland ordered the withdrawal from sale of batch G14 of Lanark White (unpasteurized) ewe milk cheese, adding, “A sample from a batch of Lanark White submitted for testing by South Lanarkshire Council has tested positive for E. coli O157. Although this organism may not carry shiga toxins, it is associated with human disease in the UK, so this cheese is a potential risk to health. FSS has issued a FAFA [Food Alert for Action] calling for this product to be immediately recalled from sale.”

The order to withdraw the cheese from sale was made after Errington refused to issue its own voluntary recall.

The company said the cheese had been on the market for three weeks with no reported cases of illness.

In a statement on its website, it said: “When we were told of the presumptive E. coli O157 result we immediately consulted experts in dairy microbiology.

“The experts told us they were confused and concerned by the testing methodology adopted by the laboratory.

“We have given careful consideration to this and to the fact that the cheese has been on the market for three weeks now with absolutely no reported incidence of illness.

“We have arranged for the sample of the same cheese tested by the authorities to be tested and the results will be ready on Monday when we will review the situation.”

Health Protection Scotland previously said that epidemiological investigations had “identified Dunsyre Blue cheese as the most likely cause of the outbreak”.

It added: “Despite extensive investigation, including looking for other possible food sources, no other link to a majority of cases could be established.”

Errington Cheese disputed the link, maintaining there was no conclusive evidence linking its products to the outbreak.

In a statement on its website last month it said that testing had shown it to be “completely clear of E. coli O157.”

Professor Hugh Pennington, the country’s leading expert on E. coli, told the Herald Scotland it could be difficult to identify it in any product suspected of causing food poisoning as by the time the illness comes to light, the food is usually all consumed or thrown away.

“Even if some of the batch (of food) is available for testing the bug might not be evenly distributed through a whole product, and so you might test part of the product that has been left or not been eaten yet and not find it – that doesn’t prove it wasn’t there in the bit that has been eaten,” he said.

“Scientifically it is sometimes quite complicated to come to a straightforward conclusion. The cheese manufacturers rightly say what is the evidence – but the regulatory authorities might never be able to come up with that.”

Joanna Blythman, investigative food journalist and the Sunday Herald’s food critic, said she believed there was a prejudice in Scotland against raw milk products, adding, “The (Dunsyre Blue) case puts a chill round everyone who wants to make a small scale artisan food. Meanwhile, the real prime suspects for large scale food poisoning are our industrial food producers.”

Stick to journalism. Illness per meal and type of food consumer and processing technique would have to be factored into any comparison of one food and artisan products.

Epi works but needs to be stronger than ‘some people ate the cheese ’ Cheese firm in Scotland linked to E. coli outbreak threatens legal action

Victoria Weldon of Herald Scotland writes that a cheese firm at the centre of an E.coli outbreak is threatening legal action to prevent a ban on sales of its popular delicacy.

dunsyre.blue.cheeseDunsyre Blue, a mould ripened, gourmet cheese from Lanarkshire, is suspected of being the source of last month’s outbreak which struck down 16 people, hospitalising two.

Makers Errington Cheese were initially forced to recall two batches but claim they have now been ordered to halt all sales or face enforcement action.

It follows fresh tests carried out by FSS identifying genes that, while not confirmation of E.coli, indicate a “presumptive positive” result for naturally occurring bacteria strains.

Company founder Humphrey Errington claims the ban is “unprecedented” and argues that scientific evidence suggests presumptive positive results are notoriously inconclusive, adding, “The behaviour of FSS is monstrous. They blamed our cheese for this outbreak in the absence of any hard evidence and have refused to share with us details of their investigation. We had independent tests carried out two weeks ago that showed the suspected batches of cheese were not contaminated. We shared these results with FSS and they said nothing to restore public trust in the product.”

Errington said the ban on Dunsyre Blue, which accounts for about two-thirds of the company’s revenue, was a “catastrophe” and revealed that his lawyers will decide today whether or not to take legal action.

“I’m afraid I can see this ending up in the courts,” he told the Sunday Times.

Dunsyre Blue is characterised by its chunky blue-green moulds and is favoured by the Queen and Michelin-starred restaurants, including an eaterie run by renowned chef Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles resort in Perthshire.

It became the focus of the health scare after 14 people in Scotland and two in England were struck down with E.coli in July, suffering stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.

By the end of the month, health officials announced that Dunsyre Blue was the most likely cause of the outbreak.

However, questions are now being asked over the strength of evidence linking the cheese to the outbreak.

Hugh Pennington, professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said: “I don’t know if Dunsyre Blue was the cause or not, but if you’re going to accuse Errington’s cheese of being the vector of the outbreak, then without further ado effectively destroy his business, then I think you should have stronger evidence than just ‘some people ate the cheese’.”

A spokesman for FSS said that all victims had been contaminated with the same strain of E.coli O157 and that “there is a strong link with certain batches [C22 and D14] of Dunsyre Blue cheese”.

He added: “Dunsyre Blue cheese remains the most likely source of this outbreak, with confirmed cases becoming unwell between July 2 and 15. It would not be appropriate to respond in more detail as investigations have not yet concluded.”

Brucellosis linked to raw milk cheese, coupled with Lyme disease, leaves woman bedridden

Reve Fisher of Opposing Views writes a vacation in Greece may have been the factor that left an English woman in debilitating pain.

brucellosis.cheeseWhile in Kos, Greece, with her family in 2013, Sam Philpott ate a “significant amount” of unpasteurized goat cheese in sandwiches, on pizzas, and as part of salads.

A few weeks later, she experienced a number of troubling symptoms, such as constant vomiting and nausea, migraines, intense weakness, fevers, exhaustion, and horrific pain. Three years later, she is barely able to walk.

“Who knew that [unpasteurized] cheese; that is delicious and has brought me much momentary happiness, could cause the mind numbing and wanting to end my life type of pain that I have been suffering with,” she said, as reported by The Mirror. “With each mouthful, to my unfortunate complete lack of knowledge and utter surprise, I was ingesting the bacteria that has led to my being bedridden.”

Sam is receiving intravenous therapy treatment at Sponaugle Wellness Institute in Oldsmar, Florida, a facility with an “incredible” success rate for treating patients with Lyme disease, as said on the family’s Go Fund Me page.

However, it is recommended that patients with Lyme disease be diagnosed within six months for the clinic’s regular treatment to be effective. The 22-year-old has been struggling with health ailments for six years.

In 2010, she was bitten by a tick while in Weimar, California, and developed intense joint pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, and poor concentration afterwards. By 2012, she needed a walking frame. Her 51-year-old mother became her full-time caregiver.

“At the clinic, they have said she is one of the worst patients they have seen, in terms of how far her illness has progressed,” said Joe Philpott, Sam’s 24-year-old brother. “It’s a kick in the teeth, but she has faith they’ll be able to help. She just wants to go back to studying and get her life back.”

Sam is receiving medication for both Brucellosis and Lyme disease, as her symptoms match both conditions.

“Doctors believe that she more than likely contracted brucellosis the summer she was in Kos – so they think it is linked to eating cheese,” Joe explained.

Salmonella in Chapel Hill creamery milk same strain as illnesses

Chapel Hill Creamery released a press release with some more info related to the outbreak.

Chapel Hill Creamery in Chapel Hill, NC, has announced a voluntary recall of all Chapel Hill Creamery cheese products because of a potential association with an outbreak of Salmonella infections. Health officials have identified recent cases of Salmonella infection in persons who consumed Chapel Hill Creamery products. A matching strain of Salmonella has been identified in the milk from the creamery that was used during preparation of the cheese products.Unknown-2

Also, some interesting messages in this coverage from chapelboro.com:

Orange County Health Department director Dr. Colleen Bridger said the investigation began because of local numbers that were out of sync with normal figures.

“Orange County, Durham County, Wake County and Chatham County were all noticing that we had higher-than-usual reported cases of Salmonella,” Bridger said.

Bridger said “it’s not unusual” to see spikes in Salmonella throughout the year but these spikes were out of the ordinary. That caused officials to ask those who had tested positive for Salmonella about their eating habits in an attempt to pinpoint the source.

“In doing that questionnaire,” Bridger said, “we had one person identify that they had eaten cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery.”

Bridger said that the state Department of Agriculture reached out to the Orange County Health Department around that same time to report that they had a sample from Chapel Hill Creamery test positive for Salmonella. Bridger said further testing determined the same strain found in the sample from Chapel Hill Creamery was found in those testing positive for Salmonella.

Bridger said Chapel Hill Creamery responded immediately by issuing a voluntary recall of all Chapel Hill Creamery cheese products.

“I can’t state enough how proactive Chapel Hill Creamery has been in this investigation, how cooperative they have been,” Bridger said. “They have done everything they were supposed to do in the preparation of their cheese. These things sometimes happen.

“They did not do anything wrong.”

Bridger added that “there is always a risk” when using raw milk to make cheese, which she characterized as a one percent risk.

Bridger said Chapel Hill Creamery goes “above and beyond” federal guidelines in most cases when processing and aging cheeses.

Data on practices and one-percent risks would help support these statements.

A select list of cheese/pathogen incidents can be found here.

2 stricken with Listeria in France, unpasteurized cheese recalled

The Puillet cheese factory, located in Roanne, France withdrew its products from sale after detection of Listeria monocytogenes. Two people from the retirement home of Belmont-de-la-Loire have been infected.

camembert_franceListeria has been detected in Camembert cheese made from cow’s milk from a local dairy.

The presence of bacteria was detected after 2 people from the retirement home of Belmont-de-la-Loire, returned after a meal on June 23, 2016. The investigation by the DDPP Loire (Department for Protection of Populations) revealed that the infection had come from cheese consumed during the meal.

The manager of the dairy remains dubious: “We do not know where it comes from or how it could be contaminated. It’s been over 20 years since we started (the business) and it never happened before. It is really hurting our business.”