Several deaths due to contaminated cheeses in various cities across U.S. prompts call to action
Los Angeles, CA–HISPANIC PR WIRE–April 20, 2005–The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a warning today to Hispanics, especially pregnant women and newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, to use caution when eating ìqueso fresco– style cheeses because they could be at risk of contracting listeriosis.
Hispanic consumers should be aware that any cheeses made with unpasteurized milk can put them at risk of listeriosis, a serious illness caused by the consumption of foods contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium. Queso fresco style cheese, which is soft, moist, and white, has been found to be the most popular kind of cheese among the Hispanic community and can include styles such as queso panela and asadero, among others.
The FDA has discovered that many Hispanics are making their own queso fresco from raw milk and selling it in their communities and/or transporting cheeses illegally from Mexico. As a result, there have been several outbreaks of listeriosis reported in California, Washington, and North Carolina, where 12 cases of infected individuals, who were all Hispanic, were linked to consumption of contaminated, homemade queso fresco.
The most recent outbreak of listeriosis included 11 pregnant women. These infections resulted in five stillbirths, three premature deliveries, and two infected newborns. Recently, cases of tuberculosis in New York City have been linked to consumption of queso fresco style cheeses as well. One infant has died and dozens of New Yorkers have contracted tuberculosis between 2001 and 2004, city and federal officials announced in March.
This disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis and was found in cheeses imported from Mexico. Brucellosis and Salmonellosis have also been linked with queso fresco style cheeses.
Outbreaks have become a serious issue in the Hispanic community because of an apparent taste preference for raw milk cheeses and the cultural popularity of making it homemade for both consuming and selling purposes. The FDA warns that this practice is very dangerous. Any cheese made from raw milk can be contaminated with Listeria and other harmful bacteria because the milk has not gone through the pasteurization process to destroy any presence of bacteria, which can result in sickness or death.
The FDA also would like the community to be aware that it is against the law to sell raw milk across state lines, though each state regulates the sale of raw milk within their own jurisdiction.
Individuals, particularly those at high risk for listeriosis, such as pregnant women, newborns, older adults, or people who have weakened immune systems, can develop the illness within a few days or even weeks after eating the contaminated cheese. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, or upset stomach. If infection spreads to the nervous system, headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.
The FDA advises that pregnant women should avoid eating homemade cheeses throughout their pregnancy because they will not know for certain if it was made with unpasteurized milk or properly handled. As a result, they are putting their life and that of their unborn fetus at risk. Only store-bought cheese that has a professional label marked ìpasteurized– is safe for consumption.
The FDA will work with the media and community-based organizations in Winston-Salem, NC and Los Angeles in addition to El Paso and Houston to disseminate bilingual information about the risks of these cheeses. An ìeducator–s kit– that contains a brochure, poster, and other materials in English and Spanish are available to organizations free of charge.
More information on food safety and listeriosis call 1-866-783-2645 (1-866-SU-FAMILIA), National Hispanic Prenatal Helpline 1-800-504-7081, 1-888-SAFEFOOD (English only) or visit http://www.fda.gov (search Listeriosis).