• 45°

Listeria outbreak in Mexican-style soft cheese prompts recall

By LAINA S. MILLER

Capital News Service

An ongoing listeria outbreak in fresh, soft cheeses threatens 26 states on the east coast and the midwest, with at least four positive cases and one death in Maryland, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The source is believed to be a New Jersey-based company called El Abuelito Cheese Inc., which has recalled several varieties of its Mexican-style soft cheeses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned El Abuelito Cheese about the possibility of a listeria outbreak in a June 2020 letter after inspections revealed food safety violations at the company’s plant.

Eight months after the FDA issued its warning letter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first published reports about a possible listeria outbreak in soft cheeses, listing seven known cases between October 2020 and February 2021. At the time, the precise source of the outbreak was unknown, but investigators had already found a possible link to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.

By Feb. 16, Connecticut’s Department of Public Health had discovered a possible connection between El Abuelito Queso Fresco cheese and the listeria outbreak, which was announced by the CDC the next day.

Once this connection was confirmed, El Abuelito issued a recall for all queso fresco cheese products with sell-by dates through Mar. 28, including those sold under the brand names El Abuelito, Rio Grande and Rio Lindo.

By the end of February, El Abuelito had expanded its recall to all queso fresco, quesillo, or requeson cheeses produced at the contaminated facility, according to the CDC’s timeline.

Eleven cases of listeria infections – 10 resulting in hospitalizations – were recorded by the CDC at this point: four cases in Maryland, four in New York, two in Virginia and one in Connecticut. In Maryland, there had been one death reported to the CDC.

For more information about avoiding a listeria infection, see the CDC’s “Question and Answers” page for listeria.