By: James Peacock

The series of recalls that has affected cheese products in the United States, most notably Sargento products, has expanded once again. There have been two more recalls since our last update, bringing the total to 11 separate recalls. Some of the recalls, including the Sargento recall, have been expanded. This cascade of recalls began in early February, when Indiana based Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC issued a recall for various cheese products after it became known that the cheese may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. As Deutsch Kase Haus is a supplier of products for a variety of companies, they were required to notify these companies of the recall. Out of abundance of caution, many of these companies also recalled their products because of the potential contamination.

There were a pair of recalls on February 28, with the first coming from Lipari Foods, LLC. The Warren, Michigan based company was one of those notified of the Listeria contamination by Deutsch Kase Haus. The cheeses were distributed by Lipari Foods to food service and retail stores in the states of West Virginia, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. Recalled cheese products were sold under the Copperwood and Lipari Old Tyme brand names. From these brand names, a variety of cheese were recalled, including Colby jack, Colby jack longhorn, pepper jack, Muenster, and Swiss cheeses. Products were sold to consumers either directly or through a deli counter. A full list of recalled products and identifying information can be found here. No illnesses have been connected to this recall at this point.

The other recall issued on February 28 came from Yoke’s Fresh Market. This company, based in Spokane, Washington, had distributed 2 varieties of cheese that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. The products distributed by Yoke’s Fresh market were produced by Guggisberg Cheese Inc., a company that has issued their own recall related to this Listeria contamination. That recall was issued on Valentine’s Day, and impacted about a dozen different products. The Yoke’s Fresh Market recall from February 28 only affected 2 products, Colby jack longhorn cheese and Colby longhorn cheese. Both products are being sold in 16 ounce packages. While the recalled cheese products were produced by Guggisberg Cheese, Inc., they were sold under the Yoke’s Fresh Market store brand. The recall includes products sold between September 1, 2016 and January 27, 2017, which the company has stated can be returned for a full refund. There have been no illnesses connected to this recall.

Sargento was connected to this series of recalls early on. The first Sargento recall took place on February 10, when a select few products were recalled because of the contamination. These products included cheddar jack, Colby jack, pepper jack, and Colby longhorn cheeses. Only a limited number of products were included in this first recall. The amount of products included would see a massive increase after the recall was expanded. On February 17, 2016, Sargento made two major announcements. First, they have stopped purchasing cheeses from Deutsch Kase Haus, and will seek another supplier. Second, they more than doubled the size of the recall. Sliced Colby, sliced Muenster, pepper jack, sliced tomato and basil jack, reduced fat Colby jack, double cheddar, and 4 cheese pizzeria make up the varieties added to the recall. In addition to the 7 extra products, some of which had multiple associated sell by dates, the update expanded the range of products recalled on February 10. By adding more Sell by dates to these products, Sargento effectively doubled the recall without adding any new varieties. More information about the recall can be found here.

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, cheese, 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.