By: James Peacock

Over the last few weeks there has been a series of cheese recalls because of potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination. As is the case with many large recalls, the supplier of several companies reported a Listeria contamination, triggering a domino effect of recalls. In this case, Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC, located in Middlebury, Indiana, was the supplier who initiated the recalls after it became clear that their products may be contaminated with Listeria bacteria. The first in the series of recalls that named Deutsch Kase Haus as their supplier came on February 10, when Meijer recalled their name brand Colby and Colby jack cheeses. These products were sold in Meijer stores between November 10, 2016 and February 9, 2017. Meijer was first notified about the potential contamination by MDS Foods, who provided Meijer with cheeses from Deutsch Kase Haus. Recalled products are marked with a UPC code of either 215927xxxxxx or 215938xxxxxx. While the last 6 digits may vary depending on when and how much cheese was bought, all product varieties are subject to the recall. There have been no illnesses linked to this recall.

On the same day as the Meijer recall, Sargento also issued a recall for a number of cheese products. This recall would be expanded on February 24. A wide variety of cheeses were recalled by Sargento, including Cheddar, Cheddar Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, Colby Jack, and Muenster. The update given to the recall on February 17 added both more varieties of cheese, as well as more products in varieties already under recall. Also included in the February 17 recall was the news that Sargento has cut any business ties with Deutsch Kase Haus. They will be using a different supplier going forward. A full list of recalled products and further information about the recall can be found here. No illnesses have been linked to this recall.

One day later, on February 11, MDS Foods issued a recall for quite a few cheese products. MDS is supplied by Deutsch Kase Haus, and distributes their own products under a few different brand names. Cheeses from brand names including Amish Classics, Deli Readi, Deli Made EZ, Meijer, and Lipari Old Tyme. A variety of products from these brands, including Colby, Colby jack, cheddar, Swiss, mild cheddar, and jalapeno flavored varieties. These products come from several different UPC codes and Best By dates, and all of this information can be found here. No illnesses have been connected to this recall at this point.

The recall of specific cheese products also impacted some products that use the recalled cheese as an ingredient. On February 11, Taylor Farms issued a recall for products made at facilities in two different locations: Dallas, Texas and Tracy, California. Approximately 6,630 pounds of chicken and pork salad products are under recall. These products were produced and packaged between February 6 and February 9. There are two specific products being recalled: Signature Cafe Southwest Style Salad with Chicken and H-E-B Shake Rattle & Bowl Rowdy Ranch Hand. These products will be marked with Best By dates of 2/13/17, 2/14/17, 2/15/17, and 2/16/17 or 2/17/17, 2/18/17, and 2/19/17 respectively. These products were shipped to distribution centers in California, Oregon, and Texas, and were sold in HEB stores. No illnesses have been linked to this recall.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are an especially dangerous form of foodborne pathogen. They have the ability to survive and even thrive, in very cold environments. This means that freezing the bacteria will not kill them, nor will it hamper their growth. This was seen in the Blue Bell outbreak in 2015, in which 10 people were sickened with Listeria poisoning after consuming frozen ice cream. Because Listeria bacteria has also been linked to numerous raw products, including sprouts and raw milk, the CDC recommends that the only way to properly remove Listeria bacteria is to cook products thoroughly. This makes it especially important to cook meats to an internal temperature of 160 in order to prevent the survival of any contamination.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria first became known as a foodborne illness in 1981. Although it had received previous study, it was not until a major outbreak in Canada that the pathogen began to gain more attention. The CDC began to track Listeria infection more than 30 years ago. In the 1990s, most outbreaks were caused by deli meats and hot dogs. Since then, though, there have been Listeria outbreaks caused by a wide variety of products, including unpasteurized juices and milk, the products made with these raw liquids, sprouts, and other vegetables, and smoked seafood. Deli meats continue to be a leading cause of Listeria outbreaks. The CDC now estimates that there are about 1600 cases of illness caused each year by Listeria bacteria. This leads to about 260 deaths per year. There are several risk factors that make an individual more likely to develop a Listeria infection. Newborns, older adults, and people with suppressed immune systems are all at an increased risk. Pregnant women are also about 10 times more likely to develop a Listeria infection. The testing process for a Listeria infection is a simple tissue sample used to foster the growth of a bacterial culture. If Listeria is seen in the developed culture, then the individual who provided the sample has tested positive for a Listeria infection. This infection is usually treated with antibiotics. The Listeria poisoning itself may not produce symptoms for up to two months after the infection, although symptoms usually present within 3-10 days. Listeria infections often produce similar symptoms to other foodborne illnesses, including fever and diarrhea. However, if the infection becomes invasive, meaning it has left the gastrointestinal system, the symptoms can worsen. In pregnant women with invasive Listeria, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and diarrhea are all common symptoms. However, Listeria has been known to cause miscarriage, stillbirth, infection in newborns, or premature delivery. In individuals with invasive Listeria who are not pregnant, fever, diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion, convulsions, loss of balance, and muscle aches are all common symptoms. If you or a loved one begin to show the symptoms of Listeria poisoning, contact a medical professional.