By Tamara Lambert

Thousands of products containing soft, raw milk cheese have been pulled from the shelves after a listeria outbreak hospitalized six people, including the fatality of two individuals. The CDC claims that this outbreak is linked to Vulto creamery, which produces popular cheeses such as Andes, Blue Blaise, and Hamden. Vulto issued its first recall on March 7, 2016, and as of today, has recalled 8 of its soft cheese brands.

So far, Connecticut, Florida, New York, and Vermont have all reported cases of listeria infection. The ages of those who were found to be ill range from below 1 year to 89 years old. Products from Vulto creamery are expected to be pulled nationwide from the grocery shelves, and the CDC is recommending that Vulto products should not be served in restaurants.

CDC listeria outbreak map

Listeriosis (listeria infection) is caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a gram-positive rod shaped bacterium. Listeria infection occurs after consuming food containing listeria. Symptoms typically appear within hours of consuming contaminated food, and include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of balance, convulsions, and in severe cases, death. Listeria monocytogenes usually enters food through soil and water, and can come into contact with produce through soil or manure. Animals can carry but do not show symptoms typical of listeria infection and can transmit the infection through meat or dairy products.

Those at highest risk for listeriosis include pregnant women and their unborn children, newborns, people over age 65, and those who are immunocompromised. Pregnant Hispanic women and people with AIDS are especially vulnerable to listeria infection, being 24 and 300 times more likely respectively to be infected with listeria than the general population. Pregnant women need to take extra precautions because listeriosis can be transmitted to their unborn children, which can result in miscarriage, stillbirths, and pre-term labor.

To prevent listeria infection, the CDC recommends to only consume dairy products if made with pasteurized milk. The CDC cautions the public against consuming Hispanic-style cheese even if made with pasteurized milk, because Listeria has been traced back to this type of cheese. It is believed that these cheeses are contaminated during the production process. For those who are high risk for infection, the CDC recommends avoiding soft cheese altogether, unless the package clearly states “made with pasteurized milk.”

Listeriosis can also be spread through consuming contaminated meats and vegetables. Some other tips to prevent listeriosis include the following:

  • Cooking meat products to a safe internal temperature according to USDA guidelines
  • Washing raw vegetables before eating, separating uncooked meat products for vegetables, cooked, and ready-to-eat food items
  • Washing hands, cooking utensils, and surfaces before and after food preparation
  • Perishable goods should be eaten as soon as possible
  • The refrigerator should be kept at a temperature of 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF or lower
  • Additional guidelines for groups with high risk of listeria infection, as well as further prevention tips can be found here
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