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FDA Investigation Summary - Multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes linked to certain Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Cheeses

Multi-State Outbreak of Listeria Monocytogenes Linked to Certain Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Cheeses

Posted May 16, 2013

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What was the Problem and What was Done?

The FDA, the CDC and state and local officials investigated a multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis) linked to Les Frères, Petit Frère, and Petit Frère with Truffles cheese distributed by Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company of Waterloo, Wisconsin.

On September 24, 2013, the CDC reported that the outbreak appeared to be over disclaimer icon .  A total of six people infected with the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes infection have been identified in five states.  

• The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Illinois (1), Indiana (1), Minnesota (2), Ohio (1), and Texas (1).
• Six ill people have reported being hospitalized, and one death has been reported.
• Additionally, one illness in a pregnant woman resulted in a miscarriage.  

During the investigation, the pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) subtype of Listeria monocytogenes, or the bacteria’s "DNA fingerprint,” isolated from cases in the cluster were the same as isolates retrieved during 2010 and 2011 environmental sampling efforts by the FDA at Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Cheese. On July 2, 2013, the FDA conducted an inspection at the firm’s processing facility in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (WDATCP).  

As part of the investigation, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture conducted laboratory tests on samples of Crave Brothers Les Frères and Petit Frère with Truffles cheeses which were collected from two retail stores.  On July 3, 2013, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that the early results of these samples indicated the presence of Listeria.   The testing of the samples later showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes with the same DNA fingerprint as the outbreak strain.

On July 3, 2013, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company recalled the following products:

• Les Frères (LF225 2/2.5#) with a make date of 7-1-13 or prior, packaged in white plastic with a green and gold label.
• Petit Frère (PF88 8/8 oz) with a make date of 7-1-13 or prior, packaged in small round wooden boxes.
• Petit Frère with Truffles (PF88T 8/8 oz) with a make date of 7-1-13 or prior, packaged in small round wooden boxes.

These products were distributed nationwide through retail and foodservice outlets as well as by mail orders.

Additionally, on July 5, 2013, Whole Foods Market announced a recall of Crave Brothers Les Frères cheese sold at Whole Foods Market stores.

 The FDA and WDATCP inspection at the firm’s processing facility was completed on July 10, 2013.  During that inspection, the FDA collected a sample of Petit Frère with Truffles that was found to contain Listeria monocytogenes with the same DNA fingerprint as the outbreak strain.

Additionally, inspectors noted the following observations:

• failure to manufacture, package, and store products under conditions necessary to minimize the potential for microbial growth and contamination;
• failure to clean food-contact surfaces and utensils as frequently as necessary to prevent contamination of food product; failure to maintain equipment, containers, and utensils used to hold food in a manner that protects against contamination;
• and failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, and other physical facilities in a sanitary condition.

 On July 16, 2013, the firm voluntarily shut down operations and entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with WDATCP. WDATCP and FDA worked jointly to review and approve the firm’s Corrective Action Plan (CAP).

While the root cause of the outbreak was never identified, the firm conducted an assessment of the conditions and practices in its facility as part of the CAP.  The firm identified potential routes of contamination and documented corrective actions it took, which it believes will prevent future contamination of products. Corrective actions included sanitizing and disinfecting the entire firm, replacing faulty and difficult-to-clean equipment, changing sanitary practices and traffic patterns during production, and establishing a product and environmental Listeria monitoring program.

As of December 1, 2013, WDATCP gave Crave Brothers a conditional license restricting production to mozzarella cheese.  This included a rigorous microbiological sampling program and put in place a “hold and test” protocol.

 As of April 18, 2014, the firm has been authorized by the WDATCP to produce mozzarella and mascarpone cheeses. The firm is not currently producing the soft cheeses linked to the outbreak.

 Additional Information for Consumers
 Although this outbreak appears to be over and recalls have been completed, consumers should make sure not to eat the following cheeses manufactured by Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company, regardless of the manufacture date:

• Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Les Frères cheese
• Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Petit Frère cheese
• Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Classics Petit Frère with Truffles cheese

Recommendations for preventing listeriosis are available at the CDC Listeria website: disclaimer icon

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 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.   

Additional Information for Retailers and Restaurants
Do not sell or serve the recalled cheese.  If you do not know the source of your cheese, check with your supplier.

• Dispose of the 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.

Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have cut and packaged this cheese need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the recalled cheese.  Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of cutting boards and utensils used in cutting may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.

Listeria monocytogenes 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, restaurants, and other food service operators 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.

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

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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:

CDC:  Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheeses disclaimer icon on Listeria disclaimer icon



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