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Deadly Lethal Listeria Outbreak Traced to Cheese Sold at New Jersey Whole Foods

Listeria outbreak claims two lives, prompting recall of numerous cheese and yogurt products sold nationwide



NEW JERSEY — Federal health officials are advising New Jersey residents to inspect their refrigerators for several cheese products associated with a recent listeria outbreak, including one retailed at Whole Foods Market outlets across the state.

Rizo-López Foods, based in California, issued a recall of numerous cheese and yogurt items on Tuesday due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Listeria is a bacterium that can lead to severe and sometimes fatal infections, particularly in vulnerable demographics such as young children, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems.

The recalled products, distributed nationwide, were marketed under various brand names including Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Dos Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 by Whole Foods Market, according to officials. Among the affected 365 by Whole Foods Market products are whole and part-skim ricotta cheeses. A spokesperson from Whole Foods confirmed to Patch that the ricotta was distributed to stores across the country.

As of February 6, a total of 26 individuals across 11 states have been infected with the Listeria strain associated with this outbreak, spanning from June 15, 2014, to December 10, 2023, officials reported. Out of the 26 reported cases, 23 have resulted in hospitalization, with two fatalities recorded.

No cases of illness have been reported in New Jersey thus far. The CDC initiated investigations into this outbreak in 2017 and 2021, with previous evidence suggesting queso fresco and similar cheeses as potential sources. However, a specific brand had not been identified at the time. The investigation was reopened in January following new reports of illness in December, coupled with the discovery of the outbreak strain in a cheese sample from Rizo-López Foods.

Subsequent FDA inspections at the Rizo-López Foods facility revealed the presence of the outbreak strain of Listeria on a container used for storing cheeses before packaging, according to officials.

While healthy individuals infected with Listeria may experience short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, the infection can pose serious risks including miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Health officials cautioned that the actual number of individuals affected by this outbreak is likely higher than reported, as not all cases are tested, and the outbreak may extend beyond states with confirmed illnesses.

Consumers are urged to thoroughly check their refrigerators and freezers for any of the listed products and discard them, as advised by the FDA.



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