By: Candess Zona-Mendola and Jory D. Lange, Jr.

In light of Vulto Creamery’s recall and subsequent expansions, one of its retailers has come forward with a recall of its own relating to the affected products. Whole Foods Market issued its first recall notice on via press release through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on March 8, 2017. The company’s voluntary recall comes shortly after Vulto Creamery’s initial press release and was made “out of an abundance of caution.” Since then, Vulto Creamery expanded its recall to include its entire line of raw milk (unpasteurized) soft cheese products. Whole Foods Market matched the expansion with one of its own.

Whole Foods’ Voluntary Recalls

On March 8, 2017, a day after Vulto Creamery’s initial recall and the FDA’s link of 6 cases of Listeria poisoning to Vulto Creamery cheeses, Whole Foods joined in with a voluntary recall of its own. The recall was more detailed than even that of the company, and offered PLU codes and “sell by” dates. The recall affected 9 of the company’s stores in four states. The initial recall notice reads as follows:

“The recall includes Vulto Creamery Ouleout and Miranda soft wash-rind raw milk cheeses which were cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap with scale labels beginning with PLU codes 0200305 and 0200306 and “sell by” dates from 12/27/2016 to 03/28/2017.

Ouleout products were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

  • 350 Grasmere Avenue, Fairfield, CT
  • 115 Prospect Street, Cambridge, MA

Miranda products were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

  • 170 Great Road, Bedford, MA
  • 575 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA
  • 647 Washington Street, Newton, MA
  • 2 Somerset Street, Portland, ME
  • 1425 Central Avenue, Albany, NY
  • 250 7th Ave, New York, NY
  • 270 Greenwich Street, New York, NY

Consumers who have purchased any of these recalled products can bring their receipts to the store for a full refund.”

However, despite a confirmed case count of 6 illnesses, two of which resulted in deaths, Whole Food’s recall notice mentions “Whole Foods Market has not received any reports of illnesses or injuries from consumers who purchased the raw cheeses from their stores.” The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed its involvement in the investigations with state and government agencies surrounding this outbreak. It also confirmed Whole Foods’ recall on its website as “DPH is aware that Whole Foods grocery in Connecticut had received cheese from Vulto for retail sales in its Fairfield location and has initiated its own recall.”

The FDA confirmed positive test result of Listeria in Vulto Creamery’s Ouleout lot # 617. New York Department of Agriculture and Markets found possible contamination in Ouleout lot #623. As the details unfolded and the public learned from the FDA that the link between the illnesses and Vulto Creamery’s cheeses, Whole Foods continued to update its recalls.

On March 13, 2017, following Vulto Creamery’s expansion of their recall to include its entire line of products, Whole Foods again provided detailed information about the affected products that was missing from Vulto’s notice. Whole Foods’ recall expansion encompassed all of Vulto Creamery’s products. Again, Whole Foods provided the PLU codes, packaging information, and “sell by” information that was lacking from Vulto Creamery’s notice. The expansion reads:

“This recall expansion includes Vulto Creamery Andes, Hamden and Walton Umber raw milk cheeses which were cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap with scale labels beginning with PLU codes 0200307, 0201357 or 0206308 and “sell by” dates from 01/02/2017 to 04/02/2017.

These products were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

  • 94 Derby Street, Hingham, MA
  • 1255 Raritan Road Unit 150, Clark, NJ
  • 300 Bergen Town Center, Paramus, NJ
  • 238 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1095 Avenue of the Americas. New York, NY
  • 270 Greenwich Street, New York, NY
  • 4 Union Square South, New York, NY
  • 575 Boston Post Road, Port Chester, NY

Consumers who have purchased any of these recalled products can bring their receipts to the store for a full refund.”

For additional information from the Food and Drug Administration concerning this outbreak and pictures of the products affected by the Vulto Creamery and Whole Foods Market recalls, you can visit the latest outbreak page here.

The FDA’s Hands Are Tied, But Ours Aren’t!

The media has reported some, but not all, of the names of other retail outlets who sell Vulto Creamery soft raw milk cheeses. Grubstreet has reported that, in New York alone, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Eataly, Saxelby, Bedford Cheese Shop, and Bklyn Larder are among the retail market shops that carry Vulto Creamery products. Thus far, the companies have been mum about mentioning the cheese recall on their websites or social media.

The DPH was open in its outbreak notice and warning that “specialty cheese shops in Connecticut who carry Vulto Creamery cheeses may have received recalled product and should check their inventory.” The agency did not identify them by name. Similar state agencies have issued similar warnings. Again, no stores are identified. The question is, why?

A recent article published by the Washington Post relating to The SoyNut Butter Company outbreak and Recall gives an attempt at an explanation. According to the article, identifying exact stores, without the stores themselves coming forward, may “violate its interpretation of an obscure trade secret rule.” Fundamentally, the FDA’s hands are tied, as they are required to maintain privacy and confidentiality of information relating to the potentially affected retailers.

This does not mean though that the retailers who sold recalled products should be silent. Grocers and food retailers are the best source of information for recalls. Through technology and debit/ credit card sales, retailers can identify who purchased the recalled products. These stores can contact their consumers and notify them of the recall. They have a direct link to the product and the consumer, the purchase receipt. The question should not be “Why aren’t retailers notifying their consumers?”, but rather “Why haven’t they warned their consumers yet?”  In the frozen foods recall last year, many different retail establishments sent notices, emails, and even called their patrons to warn them of the massive recall.

This outbreak and recall deserves a better question. Why is Whole Foods the only one?

While We Wait…

In the meantime, the public is left to wait to see if any other retail establishments come forward and confirm they sold affected products. Other food safety enthusiasts, like the eFoodAlert blog, are also doing their part to help consumers identify the affected products, and keep their families safe. The DPH offered a recommendation to consumers and retailers, as follows:

“Retailers and customers who have recalled cheese in their establishments or homes should throw the cheese away and not consume or sell it. Display cases or refrigerators where potentially contaminated product was stored should be washed and sanitized, as well as any cutting boards or cheese knives used to cut, serve, or store the product. Hands should be washed with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.”

The federal and state agencies continue to recommend medical attention to anyone who has eaten the products affected by the recall and expansions and have become ill. Monitoring for the next 3 to 70 days is also recommended in those who have eaten the affected products, but are not yet showing any signs or symptoms of illness.

We at UnsafeFoods will continue to report on this outbreak and recalls as the details continue to unfold.