By: Alice Vo Edwards

Many of us love our cheese, but when cheese is infected with Listeria, eating it can become deadly. Sargento cheese recently recalled many of its packaged cheeses due to concerns about a possible Listeria contamination. Listeria is a type of bacteria which can cause Listeriosis, an infection the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorize as severe since almost 20% of those infected die. It is the most dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, those under the age of 10, and those with weakened immune systems.

The Sargento Recall:

As of February 24, 2017, Sargento cheese had recalled 17 types of cheese including many sliced and shredded varieties. These are: Sargento Sliced Colby, Sargento Sliced Muenster, Sargento Sliced Pepper Jack, Sargento Sliced Tomato and Basil, Sargento Shredded Reduced Fat Colby-Jack, Sargento Shredded Chef Blends 4 Cheese Pizzeria, Sargento Artisan Blends Double Cheddar Shredded Cheese, Ultra-Thin Sliced Longhorn Colby, Chef Blends Shredded Nacho and Taco, Sliced Pepper Jack, Sliced Colby-Jack, Chef Blends Shredded Taco, Off the Block Fine Cut Shredded Colby-Jack, and Off the Block Fine Cut Shredded Cheddar Jack. You can visit to Sargento’s website here to get the UPC, size, and sell by date information on each of these types of cheese to see if anything you’ve purchased is part of the recall.

The recall began when Sargento’s vendor, Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC, notified the company that one of the cheeses they supplied to Sargento was potentially contaminated with the deadly Listeria monocytogenes, though no illnesses had been reported at that time. It is heartening to note that Sargento voluntarily recalled many additional cheeses because they had been packaged in the same facility and might have come into contact with the bacteria as well. At this time, there are no confirmed cases of Listeriosis linked to the recall.

Consumers are urged to be extra-vigilant about checking their recent cheese purchases for these types of cheeses and ensure their families are safe from contamination. Even if you have not purchased any Sargento cheese recently, cheese is a common carrier for this deadly bacteria so it is suggested to be on the alert for any of the symptoms of the Listeriosis infection.

MDS Foods, who sold and processed cheese received from Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC, initially recalled 7 cheeses, but has since had to expand its recall with 47 contaminated cheeses as well as over 60 additional products that might be contaminated. It is unknown if more recall expansions are forthcoming.

Other Products Affected By the Sargento Cheese Recall:

Any uncooked products that came into contact with contaminated cheeses may be at risk for contamination also. CNN reported that many companies have initiated recalls due to confirmed or potential contamination from cheese products.

  • Taylor Farms recalled over 6,000 pounds of chicken and pork salads because some of their salads included cheese supplied by Sargento.
  • Country Fresh has recalled over 2,500 cases of cooking and snack foods that they know include Sargento-branded cheese, including products one might not naturally think of as being in danger of contaminant, such as stuffed mushrooms.
  • Choice Farms has recalled stuffed mushrooms that were sold in cheese trays in Kroger Stores.

Since the list of potential sources of contaminated cheese is so vast, consumers are urged to be wary of any product containing cheese as many other brands and restaurant meals may unwittingly include contaminated cheese. We at Unsafe Foods will continue to follow this recall and provider periodic updates.

Dangers of bacterial poisoning from contaminated cheese:

The CDC estimates that 1,600 people are affected annually in the United States based on receiving reports of approximately 800 laboratory-confirmed cases each year. The CDC says that this is the third leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States.

  • Nearly everyone who contracts Listeriosis is hospitalized
  • The fatality rate for known cases is about 20%
  • Almost ¼ of pregnancy-related cases result in the loss of the baby

Listeriosis infection, according to the CDC, can include the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Stiff-neck
  • Muscle aches
  • Confusion
  • Loss of Balance

Since these symptoms can seem similar to having a flu, and in most cases are limited to diarrhea, many people may not realize they have it or chalk it up to a case of simple food poisoning. This makes it especially dangerous because infected individuals can also be carriers of the disease since the diarrhea is infected with the bacteria. Poor hand washing habits can cause the infection to be unwittingly spread to uncooked foods touched by the infected person.

In pregnant women, additional symptoms can include flu-like symptoms including fatigue or muscle aches. Scarily, getting Listeriosis while pregnant can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or threatening infection of the baby. Some pregnant women may have no symptoms at all, but children can be born with severe problems including granulomatosis infantiseptica (a severe disorder involving the internal organs and skin of the infant), or neonatal Listeriosis.

 

The bacteria can go on to cause other dangerous medical conditions and infections including:

  • Sepsis
  • Meningitis
  • Meningoencephalitis
  • Septic arthritis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Prosthetic graft infections
  • Infections inside the chest, abdomen, skin, or eye.

How to tell if you have Listeriosis

Since Listeriosis can present very similarly to the flu or food poisoning, it often goes undiagnosed. The lengthy onset of illness, anywhere from 3 to 70 days, may also be a concern as many will become sick may not attribute their illness to a product they ate almost two months prior. Those who suspect they might have Listeriosis are diagnosed by a doctor ordering a specialty laboratory test of bacterial culture from body tissues or fluids such as blood, spinal fluid, or the placenta in the case of pregnant women or those who have miscarried. If you have miscarried, you can order the placenta to be tested to confirm whether or not the miscarriage was caused by a Listeriosis infection from contaminated food.

How to prevent getting Listeriosis infection from contaminated cheeses like the Sargento cheese:

Listeria is commonly spread through uncooked foods. Common carriers are cheese (especially unpasteurized and soft cheeses), raw sprouts, melons, hot dogs, lunch meat, and smoked seafood. Cooking the food to over 165 degrees Fahrenheit can kill bacteria but food should still be eaten immediately to minimize any bacterial growth.

Outbreaks of Listeriosis

There have been no reported outbreaks of Listeriosis in 2017, but there were three in 2016 in frozen vegetables, raw milk, and packaged salads. Prior year outbreaks included contaminated ice cream, bean sprouts, other cheese and dairy products, and cantaloupes.

 

Other Products Affected By the Sargento Cheese Recall:

Any uncooked product that came into contact with contaminated cheese may be at risk of contamination also. Taylor Farms recalled over 6,000 pounds of chicken and pork salads because some of their salads included cheese supplied by Sargento.

Therefore, the CDC recommends the public be wary of any products containing uncooked cheese as many other brands and restaurant meals may unwittingly include contaminated cheeses.

 

References:
https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/12/health/sargento-cheese-recall/

https://info.sargento.com/

https://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm542407.htm