Cheese recalled in 15 states, including Washington, due to listeria concerns

A California-based manufacturer’s cheese products are headed for the trash as federal public health officials continue to investigate a decade-old listeria outbreak that continues.

Wisconsin-based Sargento Cheese, the latest company affected by the outbreak, announced Thursday that it had voluntarily recalled products supplied by California-based Rizo-Lopez Foods, the company linked to the outbreak. The recalled products were those sold to restaurant groups and not directly to consumers.

The brand, best known for its Italian-style grated cheese varieties, said in a statement that its products sold in grocery stores were not affected by the outbreak but that “out of an abundance of caution” it had chosen to voluntarily recall one of its products. products packaged on the same factory lines as Rizo-Lopez items. Sargento said he has since ended his relationship with Rizo-Lopez, a small maker of Mexican dairy products including sour cream, desserts and cheeses.

Sargento’s voluntary recall affects 11 varieties of shredded cheese in 15 states, according to Food and Drug Administration data: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. The affected products had expiration dates listed between March and June 2024.

Sargento’s decision comes a month after Rizo-Lopez recalled dozens of dairy products over concerns of possible listeria contamination. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked the company to a decade-long listeria outbreak, first detected in June 2014, that resulted in two deaths and at least 23 hospitalizations across the country.

Rizo-Lopez supplies dairy products for brands including Dole, HEB, La Ordena, Trader Joe’s and 365 Whole Foods Market. The company also sold products appearing in taco kits, wraps and unbranded meals at retailers including Albertsons, Costco, Safeway, Stater Bros. Markets and Vons.

The decade-old investigation into the outbreak found as early as 2017 that soft cheeses like queso fresco were a potential source of the outbreak, but failed to identify the specific brand or manufacturer.

The CDC reopened the investigation in January after reports of new illnesses surfaced the previous month.

“Epidemiology and recent laboratory data show that queso fresco and cotija manufactured by Rizo Lopez Foods are making people affected by this outbreak sick,” the CDC said last month.

Listeria, short for Listeria monocytogenes, can be deadly and is especially dangerous for pregnant and elderly people. About 260 people die each year after being infected with listeria, the CDC reports. Detection can be complicated by the delay between consumption of the contaminated food and the appearance of symptoms. Some symptoms may appear the same day a person eats contaminated food and, in severe cases, may appear within two weeks of eating contaminated food; in milder cases, symptoms may not appear for up to 10 weeks.

Health officials are urging consumers not to eat the affected products and to check the FDA website for the latest information on which products may be affected in their refrigerator or freezer and to throw them away. Anyone who purchased the items for domestic or commercial use should also clean and disinfect any surfaces or containers touched by the products.

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