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FDA Investigates Presence of Listeria in Hispanic-style Cheese

Update: November 17, 2016

On November 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Christian Rivas, the owner of Oasis Brands, Inc. (“Oasis”), located in Miami, Florida, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for distributing cheese contaminated with lysteria monocytogenes (“listeria”).

Original Post: October 30, 2014

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials are investigating several cases of listeriosis. We have moved quickly to learn as much as possible and prevent additional people from becoming ill. We recognize that people will be concerned about this these illnesses, and we will continue to provide updates and advice.

What is the Problem and What is Being Done?

The FDA, CDC and state and local officials are investigating several cases of listeriosis that may be connected to Hispanic-style cheese products.  

In July 2014, Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) identified Listeria monocytogenes in quesito casero, a cheese produced by Oasis Brands, Inc., which was collected during routine sampling.  

The FDA inspected the firm’s processing facility in Miami, Florida from August 1 through 22, 2014.   

On August 4, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. recalled quesito casero (fresh curd) due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination after the pathogen was isolated from quesito casero produced by the firm. During the FDA inspection, environmental samples were collected from the production facility. The FDA found Listeria monocytogenes in these samples. 

Through the use of Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), which allows for detailed comparison of bacterial DNA, the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria found in a sample of quesito casero cheese produced by Oasis Brands, Inc. that was taken from a retail location by Virginia’s DCLS was found to closely match environmental samples taken by the FDA from the firm’s cheese processing facility and clinical samples provided to the CDC from three people who had become ill with listeriosis in the states of New York, Tennessee and Texas. The genomic DNA from these isolates of Listeria monocytogenes was highly similar, which makes it more likely that these isolates came from the same source.  Additionally, according to CDC, all three of the people who had been ill reported that they ate Hispanic-style cheese. Two of them reported eating quesito casero, specifically, though they could not remember the specific brand. The New York patient became ill in September 2013, while the Tennessee patient became ill in June 2014 and the Texas patient in August 2014. 

According to the CDC, although limited information is available about the specific cheese products consumed by the ill persons, the whole genome sequencing findings, together with the cheese consumption history of the patients suggests that these illnesses could have been related to products from Oasis Brands, Inc. 

Oasis Brands, Inc. has subsequently initiated two additional recalls. Oasis Brands recalled cuajada en hoja (fresh curd) on October 6, 2014, after the FDA isolated Listeria monocytogenes from environmental samples collected from the production facility and a finished product sample tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes

On October 16, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. recalled various Lacteos Santa Martha and one HonduCrema brand products out of an abundance of caution. At this time, Oasis Brands, Inc. has ceased manufacturing all products, including the recalled products. 

CDC, the states involved and FDA continue to work closely on this ongoing investigation and new information will be provided when available. 

What are the Symptoms of Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare but serious illness caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Anyone who experiences fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, or develops fever and chills while pregnantafter eating any of the Oasis Brands, Inc. products listed below should seek medical care and tell the health care provider about eating the potentially contaminated cheese. Symptoms can appear from a few days up to a few weeks after consumption of the contaminated food.

Who is at Risk?

Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as cancer). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.

What Specific Products were Recalled?

Oasis Brands, Inc. has recalled the following products:

Product Size Expiration/Best By Dates UPC Code
Lacteos Santa Martha Brand Products      
Queso Seco Centroamericano (Dry White Cheese) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 876593 001874
Queso Seco Olanchano (Dry Cheese) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000840
Queso Seco Hondureno (Dry Cheese) 12 oz 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 876593 001690
Quesito Casero (Fresh Curd) 12 oz 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000420
My Queso (Latin Flavor Cheese) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000406
Queso Cuzcatlan (Salvadorean Flavor Cheese) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000413
Queso para Freir (Cheese for Frying) 12 oz 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000758
Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese) 12 oz 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000703
Cuajada en Hoja Queso Casero Hecho a Mano (Fresh Curd) 12 oz 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000895
Crema Centroamericana (Soft Blend Dairy Spread) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 876593 001898
Mantequilla Hondurena (Honduran Style Cream) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000772
Crema Nica (Grade A Cultured Cream) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000468
Crema Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Style Cream) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000819
Crema GuateLinda (Guatemalan Style Cream) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000390
Crema Cuzcatlan (Salvadorean Style Cream) 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000444
HonduCrema Brand Product      
HonduCrema Olanchana (Olanchana Style Soft Blend Dairy Spread 1 lb 07/01/14 – 12/31/14 UPC 635349 000598

What Do Consumers Need To Do?

Consumers should not eat any of the recalled products and should check their homes for these dairy products. Consumers who have purchased any of the recalled products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund, or discard them. 

Recommendations for preventing listeriosis are available at the CDC Listeria website: http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html 

Listeria monocytogenes 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 thoroughly clean their refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and cheese cutting utensils that may have come in contact with the potentially 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.     

What Do Retailers and Restaurants Need To Do?

Do not sell or serve the products identified above.  If you do not know the source of your dairy products, check with your supplier.

Dispose of the dairy products listed above.

Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated dairy products were stored.

Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to cut, serve, or store potentially contaminated dairy products.

Wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process. 

Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated dairy products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.

Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of cutting boards and utensils used in processing may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination. 

Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures in foods like dairy products. 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. Listeria can also cross contaminate other food cut and served on the same cutting board or stored in the same area. Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators may wish to consider whether other foods available for sale could have been cross-contaminated from the potentially contaminated dairy products, and should be discarded.  

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

Who Should be Contacted?  

Consumers with questions may contact Oasis Brands, Inc. at (305) 599-0225 Monday thru Friday 9:00 am - 4:30 pm EST. 

The FDA also encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, or to consult the fda.gov website: http://www.fda.gov.     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. 

Additional Information

 

Page Last Updated: 11/21/2016
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