Washington Maker of Listeria Tainted Cheese Agrees to Stop Production

A Washington maker of Listeria-tainted cheese has agreed to stop production of its defective product. We’ve been following issues with Del Bueno cheeses, which were previously recalled over potential contamination with the dangerous, often deadly, Listeria pathogen.

Del Bueno of Grandview, Washington, has had issues with Listeria; its cheese has been linked to one illness. Now, says Oregon Live, the cheese maker has agreed to stop producing and distributing its cheese, reaching a consent decree, last week, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Del Bueno agreed not to start production and sale until it develops a program to eliminate the pathogen. The consent decree was entered by U.S. District Judge Lonny R. Suko of the Eastern District of Washington, on April 3, said the FDA.

A family-run company, Del Bueno manufactures Mexican-style cheese from pasteurized milk, selling, for the most part, queso fresco to small ethnic stores in Washington State. Some products were distributed to grocery stores in Oregon, noted Oregon Live.

For three years—since it began production, Del Bueno has endured ongoing Listeria problems. In 2010, the FDA found Listeria in cheese samples and the facility, said Oregon Live; Del Bueno issued three recalls from April to November of its queso fresco cheese, and one illness was linked to the cheese in Washington state. Del Bueno issued another cheese recall last year over Listeria-contaminated cheese.

Jesus Rodriguez, Del Bueno’s owner, told Oregon Live that he had a grinder problem; however, Listeria has been found in other areas in its facility. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has been warned, repeatedly, by federal and state officials about the facility’s unsanitary conditions, which led to the consent degree.

Del Bueno is banned from reopening until it hires an independent lab to collect and test its cheese for Listeria; pays for an independent sanitation expert; develops a program, in English and Spanish, to control Listeria for all employees; and destroys all food currently in the facility, said Oregon Live. Once Del Bueno is permitted to resume operations, the FDA may mandate it to recall products or cease production if future violations occur. Rodriguez said this would cost Del Bueno about $25,000, which it said it cannot afford. Del Bueno will likely have to close down for good, said Oregon Live.

“When a company continues to produce food that presents a risk for consumers, the FDA will take action,” said Dara A. Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “We will not hesitate to protect the public’s health.”

FDA and Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) inspections since 2009 have documented numerous deficiencies in Del Bueno’s processing facility. In addition, FDA laboratory testing since 2010 also found Listeria monocytogenes in Del Bueno’s finished cheese products and in the Del Bueno facility. Both the FDA and the WSDA repeatedly advised Del Bueno and its owner of the unsanitary conditions at the facility.

As we’ve long written, it is important to bear in mind that Listeria thrives in cold environments, such as refrigerators, and has an incubation period of up to 70 days. Oregon Live notes that Listeria also well tolerates heat and dry temperatures, making it even more challenging to eradicate.

The Listeria monocytogenes pathogen can 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. Listeriosis can lead to hearing loss or brain damage in newborns, and can also lead to neurological effects and cardio respiratory failure in adults.

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