Imported Ricotta Salata cheese has been identified as the source of an outbreak of listeria across 11 US states and has been linked to at least one death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 14 people were infected across 11 states and the District of Columbia, in its joint investigation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and public health and regulatory officials in several states.
Three deaths have been reported; one each in Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York and Maryland has reported the highest number of ill people, with three.
Listeriosis contributed to at least one of the deaths in Nebraska and New York, but did not contribute to the death in Minnesota.
Whole Foods Market recall
Whole Foods Market announced yesterday that it is recalling ricotta salata sold in 21 states and Washington, D.C. that came from its supplier Forever Cheese Inc. of Long Island City, New York.
The recalled Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand cheese was cut into wedges, packaged in clear plastic wrap and sold with a Whole Foods Market scale label using PLU 293427.
Dates that illness was diagnosed range from 28 March, 2012 to 30 August, 2012 and all 14 ill persons were hospitalized.
Last week, Forever Cheese recalled all Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand manufactured in Italy, Forever Cheese lot # T9425 and/or production code 441202, from one specific production date with sell by dates through 2 October.
The CDC said four of the illnesses were related to a pregnancy and the other 10 ill persons ranged in age from 56 years to 87 years, with a median age of 79 years, and 55% were female.
They warned that the product has a four month shelf life, so contaminated cheese may still be in consumer’s refrigerators and may still be for sale in stores and is not the same as ricotta, which is a very soft cheese sold in plastic tubs.
“Twelve (86%) of 14 ill persons interviewed reported consuming a soft cheese. All six ill persons who could provide information about packaging of cheeses reported consuming cheese that had been cut and repackaged at a retail location,” a CDC statement added.
“The investigation is complex because ill persons reported consuming many different cheeses from many different retail locations.
“No one cheese was reported by the majority of ill persons, suggesting that cross-contamination of other cheeses through cutting boards and utensils may have played a role.”