By: Candess Zona-Mendola
Cheese has been a hot topic in the food safety realm for the last month. On the coattails of the Sargento Cheese recall, another outbreak has arisen out of New York fromager Vulto Creamery. This time, Listeria monocytogenes is back with an outbreak that has already left two dead and four other illnesses. The cheeses affected by the outbreak and subsequent recall were sold via retailers and distributors nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are six confirmed victims in this outbreak, from four states: Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Florida. All of the victims required hospitalization and two died as a result of Listeriosis contracted from eating the contaminated cheeses. The deaths occurred in Connecticut and Vermont. Those ill range in age is reported as from one to 89 years old, but reports confirm that the bacteria were isolated from a newborn as well.
About the Outbreak and Investigation
On September 1, 2016, the first victim of this outbreak became ill with Listeriosis. This victim, along with the 5 others currently identified, provided samples to the state health agencies for microbiology testing. The tests yielded results of similar strains of Listeria monocytogenes. Due to the genetic similarity of the strains, the agencies concluded that there was evidence that these victims became ill from a common source. The samples were collected between September 1, 2016 and January 22, 2017.
When the cases were found to have a similar source, the agencies commenced the interview process. During this time, all interviewed victims and/or their family members confirmed to have ingested Vulto Creamery soft cheese prior to their illnesses. The Florida resident reported to have eaten Vulto Creamery cheeses in New York prior to returning home and becoming ill.
The most recent illness subject to this outbreak began on January 22, 2017.
On January 31, 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), CDC, and state local agencies commenced the investigation into the outbreak. By using the nationwide PulseNet system, the database that stores serotyping information on dangerous pathogens, the agencies were able to find any additional cases related to this outbreak.
On or about March 6, 2017, the FDA and CDC confirmed the link between the Vulto Creamery cheese products and the outbreak, from testing on an open cheese from the deceased Connecticut victim’s home and finished cheese samples from Vulto Creamery’s cheese-making facility. The family of the deceased Connecticut victim identified the sequestered cheese as Ouleout from Vulto Creamery. The New York Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services and the FDA confiscated three wheels of Ouleout cheese from Vulto Creamery for testing during an inspection. All cheeses tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.
They informed Vulto Creamery on March 7, 2017 of the potential link between his cheese products and the outbreak. The company stopped production and issued a nationwide recall on its website.
The federal and state agencies’ investigation is still ongoing. The agencies report that they believe additional cases may be found to be linked to this outbreak.
On March 7, 2017, Vulto Creamery initiated its first recall of its soft raw milk cheeses via public press release. The company, who distributed the raw milk cheeses nationwide, reports that they are primarily sold in sold at retail locations in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, California, Chicago, Portland and Washington D.C. One of its main retailers, WholeFoods, joined the recall through its joint efforts with the FDA.
The company issued a press release concerning its recall, as follows:
“Vulto Creamery, Walton, New York, is recalling all lots of Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie, and Willowemoc soft wash-rind raw milk cheeses out of an abundance of caution due to testing result from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which found Ouleout lot # 617 positive for Listeria monocytogenes and New York Department of Agriculture and Markets finding the possible contamination of Ouleout lot #623. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and fetal infection among pregnant women.
Product photos of all four cheese items being recalled along with a brief description are shown. If you have any of this soft, wash-rind raw-milk cheese, please do not consume it. The soft raw milk cheeses were distributed nationwide, with most being sold at retail locations in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, California, Chicago, Portland and Washington, DC.”
Pictures of the affected products can be found here.
Strangely, Vulto Creamery is not asking the public to not discard the cheese products. A plea to destruct or discard the product is a typical recall practice. Rather, they are requesting them be returned to the company. According to the company’s website recall notice:
“Consumers that have any of these soft raw milk cheeses from Vulto Creamery should return the cheese to the purchase location for a refund. Food and cheese wholesalers and retailers with any of the Vulto Creamery soft, wash-rind raw milk cheeses on hand should immediately remove these products from common storage coolers and quarantine these cheeses in a secured area of a cooler. Any wholesaler or distributor that has any of the four cheeses should contact Vulto Creamery to receive instructions on what to do with the cheese. No recalled cheese should be destroyed until Vulto Creamery has been notified and agrees.”
At the time of this post, the recall notice has yet to be posted on the company’s Facebook page.
About Vulto Creamery
This small creamery based in Walton, New York is owned and operated by Jos Vulto. The company’s website comments that it prides itself in making “variety of handmade cheese in small batches, using raw [unpasteurized] milk of the highest quality, obtained from local dairy farmers.” For those who want to learn more about the dangers of raw milk, you can visit our post here.
A Dutch immigrant and tradesman, Vulto opened his creamery in 2012. Vulto began its cheese-making out of his home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. When he opened his company, he partnered with local Walton dairy farmer, Dan Finn. Finn’s Holstein and Jersey cows subsequently have provided the milk-source for Vulto’s cheese creations. Vulto’s goal was to make fine cheeses with interesting ingredients, like the Meadow of Love or Delaware Phoenix absinthe used to wash his Miranda signature cheese.
How Can I Keep My Family Safe?
The FDA and CDC believe the products are still in consumers’ homes. It is recommended that consumers check their kitchens for the affected products immediately and cease and desist eating them, even if they ate them prior and did not get sick. The agencies recommend the following for consumers and food service establishments:
- “Throw the cheese away in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people and animals from eating it.
- Wash the refrigerator drawer and other areas where the cheese was stored with hot water and soap.
- Wash cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to cut, serve, or store recalled cheese. If possible, use a dishwasher; otherwise, use hot water and soap, followed by sanitizing with a solution of one tablespoon chlorine bleach added to one gallon of hot water.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap after cleaning up.
If you have eaten a recalled cheese and do not have any symptoms, most experts believe that tests or treatment are not needed, even for people at higher risk for listeriosis.
People who develop symptoms of listeriosis after eating possibly contaminated products can consider seeking medical care and telling a healthcare provider about eating that product. Although people can sometimes develop listeriosis up to 2 months after eating contaminated food, symptoms usually start within several days.”
We at UnsafeFoods will continue to report on this outbreak as the details unfold.