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FDA Investigates a Multistate Outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes Infections Linked to Imported Frescolina Marte Brand Ricotta Salata Cheese

Posted November 21, 2012 

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UPDATE:  November 21, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a final update on the Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Imported Frescolina Marte Brand Ricotta Salata Cheese  disclaimer icon reporting that this particular outbreak appears to be over.  A total of 22 people infected with the outbreak-associated strain of Listeria monocytogense were reported from 13 states and the District of Columbia.

On September 13, 2012 the FDA placed the exporter of the recalled cheese, Fattorie Chiarappa S.R.L. of Conversano, Italy, on Import Alert1. This means that Fattorie Chiarappa's cheese will be denied admission into the United States unless the importer shows that the cheese is not contaminated with Listeria, such as by using private laboratories to test the cheese.

Forever Cheese Inc. of Long Island City, New York, the distributor of this cheese, initiated a recall of certain lots of the cheese on September 10, 2012 and expanded the recall on September 14, 2012 to include all lots and production codes of Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese and issued a market withdrawal of all cheeses they received that were produced by the Italian cheese exporter.

This investigation will be transferred to the FDA’s CORE Post-Response Team for appropriate follow-up activities.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections. We are moving quickly to learn as much as possible and prevent additional people from becoming ill. We recognize that people will be concerned about this outbreak, and we will continue to provide updates and advice.  
 

What is the Problem and What is Being Done?

The FDA, the CDC and state and local public health officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to imported Frescolina Marte brand Ricotta Salata cheese distributed by Forever Cheese Inc. of Long Island City, New York.  The FDA is also collaborating with Italian health authorities on this investigation.

The FDA has placed the exporter of the recalled cheese, Fattorie Chiarappa S.R.L.of Conversano, Italy, on Import Alert. This means that Fattorie Chiarappa's cheese will be denied admission into the United States unless the importer shows that the cheese is not contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, such as by using private laboratories to test the cheese.

On September 10, 2012, Forever Cheese initiated a voluntary recall of this cheese with the lot number (T9425) and/ or a production code (441202). This cheese may also have been referred to as Ricotta Frescolina Marte Tipo Toscanella, or Ricotta Salata Soft Lot (T9425) as it was being distributed. The cheese has also been referred to as Marte brand Frescolina Ricotta Salata cheese.

On September 14, 2012, Forever Cheese expanded the original recall to include all lots and all production codes of Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese.  This cheese was sold to wholesale distributors, supermarkets and restaurants between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012. At that time, Forever Cheese also ceased importing cheeses from Fattorie Chiarappa S.R.L  and issued a market withdrawal of all other cheese received from Fattorie Chiarappa (Marte brand Roasted Ricotta and Hard Ricotta Salata). 

On September 26, 2012, Forever Cheese issued a press release specifiying the specific lot numbers and production codes of the recalled cheese. 

The following lots/production codes may be found on the original wheels distributed by Forever Cheese: T5086/440220, T5520/440315, T6048/440417, T6528/440519, T7012/440703, T7452/440601, T7939/440822, T8419/441003, T8899/441020, T9425/441202, T9962/441227, U1392/450126

On October 2, Whole Foods Market provided additional information to consumers regarding their September 12, 2012 recall of imported Frescolina Marte brand Ricotta Salata cheese.  Whole Foods Market reported that 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.  However, in the four stores that sold the recalled cheese in California and Arizona, the recalled cheese was also sold with a Whole Foods Market scale label that read “Mitica Ricotta Salada,” and with  Whole Foods Market scale labels with PLU 294413. All “sell by” dates through Oct. 2 are affected.  

The CDC reports a total of 22 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes from 13 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, 20 persons have been hospitalized. Four deaths have been reported. The CDC disclaimer icon reports that listeriosis contributed to at least two of those deaths. One fetal loss has also been reported.

The investigation into this outbreak continues, in order to determine whether there are other possible sources of the outbreak.

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Where was the Cheese Distributed?

The Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese was sold to supermarkets, restaurants, and wholesale distributors in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012. 

What are the Symptoms of Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare and serious illness caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria called Listeria. Persons who think they might have become ill should consult their doctor. A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches.

Who is at Risk? 

Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include older adults, people with compromised immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as cancer), unborn babies and newborns. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious illness or death in newborn babies, though the mother herself rarely becomes seriously ill. 

What Do Consumers Need To Do?

Consumers should not eat imported Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese. Many people who bought the cheese may not know the manufacturer because it was distributed in large wheels to retailers or restaurants to break down into smaller servings or packages.  Consumers who have purchased ricotta salata since September 1, 2011, may want to ask their retailer if that store sold relabeled Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata.  

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If you believe that you have purchased any of this cheese please contact your distributor or retailer for a full refund.
Ricotta salata is a salty, white cheese made from pasteurized sheep’s milk.  It is NOT the same as soft ricotta cheese sold in tubs and frequently used to make lasagna. 

The CDC reports that cross-contamination from the recalled Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese to other cheeses is one possible explanation for several illnesses in this outbreak. This may have occurred when another cheese was cut with the same knife or on the same surface as the recalled cheese. Therefore, consumers who purchased the recalled cheese should consider discarding other cheeses that they cut with the same knife or on the same surface as the recalled cheese. This is particularly important for pregnant women, persons with weakened immune systems, and older adults, since they are at increased risk of severe outcomes from listeriosis.  

Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow. 

It is very important that consumers clean their refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and cheese cutting utensils thoroughly that may have come in contact with the contaminated cheese. Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.    

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What Do Retailers Need To Do?

Contaminated cheese may still be in stores and restaurants.

Retailers who have cut and packaged this cheese need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with imported Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata. Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of cutting boards and utensils used in cutting may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.   

Listeria can grow in cut cheese at room and refrigerator temperatures. Listeria can also spread to other cheeses cut and served on the same cutting board or stored in the same area.
For that reason, retailers may wish to consider whether other cheeses available for sale could have been cross-contaminated from the recalled cheese and should be discarded. 

Because Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures in foods like cheeses, the FDA recommends and many state codes require that cheeses be discarded within 7 days of the date that they are opened in a retail establishment. 

Do not sell or serve recalled Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese distributed by Forever Cheese, Inc. If you do not know the source of your ricotta salata cheese, check with your supplier.

  • Dispose of recalled cheese.
  • Wash and sanitize cheese display cases and refrigerators where contaminated cheese was stored.
  • Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to cut, serve, or store contaminated cheese.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.

See the FDA BulletinAdvice to Food Establishments that Sell or Repackage Cheese Products, for additional information.

Who Should be Contacted? 

If you have any questions please call Forever Cheese (888) 930-8693, contact: Jeff DiMeo from 9 am to 5pm EST and mention Recall.

Consumers who show any signs of illness from listeriosis should consult their health care provider. The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD or consult the fda.gov website. 

Investigation Progression  

FDA will update the public on the progress of this investigation as more information becomes available.

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The information in this release reflects the FDA’s best efforts to communicate what it has learned from the manufacturer and the state and local public health agencies involved in the investigation. The agency will update this page as more information becomes available.

For more information:

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Page Last Updated: 07/21/2014
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