The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is warning New Yorkers not to consume Queso Fresco Fresh, Fresh Cheese products manufactured by the Mexicali Cheese Corporation, over potential Listeria contamination. Mexicali Cheese makes and distributes a variety of soft Mexican cheeses.
New York State Agriculture Commissioner, Darrel Aubertine, issued the warning to all consumers in the metropolitan New York area, including Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Mexicali Cheese Corp. is located at 91-52 87th Street in Woodhaven, New York and the cheese involved is packaged in a rigid 14-ounce plastic tub that bears plant number 36-0128 and a code of 071512. The product was packaged in containers bearing the product names “Mexicali Queso Fresco Mexicano, Mexican Style Fresh Cheese” or “Acatlan Queso Fresco, Fresh Cheese.”
A routine sample of the cheese, taken by an inspector from the Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services on June 20, 2012 and that was subsequently tested by the Department’s Food Laboratory, revealed that the product was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. On June 25, 2012 the manufacturer was notified of a preliminary positive test result and voluntarily recalled the product from its customers. Test results were confirmed on June 29, 2012 and subsequent samples will be taken to verify that the product is free of pathogens.
To date, no illnesses are known by the Department to be associated with this product; however, as we’ve long explained, the Listeria pathogen is unique because it tends to thrive in colder temperatures, such as those found in refrigerated environments. Listeria also has an unusually long incubation period of up to 70 days, according to experts, and well tolerates heat and dry temperatures, adding further challenges to the pathogen’s eradication and length to expected reporting time frames.
The Listeria monocytogenes pathogen can also lead to the listeriosis infection, which is potentially fatal and can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea, and nausea, especially in those with weakened immune systems, infants, and the elderly. Vulnerable populations, such as the developing fetus, can suffer serious central nervous system problems. The infection can also prompt premature births, or the death of the fetus via miscarriage and stillbirth; pregnant women are 20 times likelier to become infected. And, listeriosis can lead to hearing loss or brain damage in newborns, and can lead to neurological effects and cardio respiratory failure in adults.
Mexicali Cheese is no stranger to recalls and contamination issues and has a history of unsanitary conditions and producing cheese in a facility known to be contaminated with the Listeria bacteria, among others. This February, we wrote that the FDA asked a federal court to shut down the cheese maker over concerns about Listeria monocytogenes contamination. It seems that Mexicali Cheese allegedly failed to correct violations despite federal and state warnings. According to a complaint for permanent injunction filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Mexicali Cheese and two of its officers produced cheese under persistent unsanitary conditions that contributed to widespread Listeria contamination in Mexicali Cheese’s facility. The complaint stated that the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, also discovered similar unsanitary conditions and product contamination.
In 2010, then-New York State Agriculture Commissioner, Patrick Hooker, warned consumers in the Queens County, New York area not to consume certain “Queso Cotija Cheese” made by Mexicali Cheese Corp. due to potential Staphylococcus aureus contamination. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that usually causes rapid food poisoning symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, retching, abdominal cramping, and prostration. In more severe cases, headache, muscle cramping, and transient changes in blood pressure and pulse may occur. Recovery generally takes two days. All people are susceptible and, while death is very rare, such cases have occurred among the elderly, infants, and severely debilitated persons.