October 30, 2014

Listeria Contamination Prompts Expanded Recall Of Mexicali Cheese

Problems persist at Mexicali Cheese Corp. where Listeria contamination has prompted an expanded recall of cheese products, according to the New York State Department  of Agriculture (NYDA). On July 2, the NYDA announced an expansion of a recall that was issued June 29 after  Listeria monocytogenes was discovered in cheese samples taken during routine inspection. There are now four cheeses under recall for possible Listeria contamination: Mexicali Queso Fresco Mexicano, Mexican Style Fresh Cheese; Acatlan Queso Fresco, Fresh Cheese; Mi Quesito Mexicano, Mexican Cheese; and Quesillo Ecuatoriano, Ecuadorian Style Cheese.

Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections. Pregnant women are among those who are most susceptible, although they may only experience flu-like symptoms, Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects in newborns of mothers who were ill. Others at high risk are young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of Listeria infection, called listeriosis, include high fever, severe headaches, muscle stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Anyone who has eaten this cheese and develops these symptoms should contact a health care provider. So far, no illnesses have been reported with this recall.

Mexicali Cheese has been plagued with food safety problems since 2010, as Food Poisoning Bulletin has previously reported. As recently as May 1, 2012, the company was ordered by a consent decree signed by Judge John Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York to stop “receiving, preparing, processing, packing, holding or distributing any articles of food until it has completed FDA-approved measures to correct deficiencies, decontaminate their facility and comply with the law. The company must also hire an outside sanitation expert to ensure that the company’s food processing procedures are safe. The firm may not resume operations until it receives FDA’s permission.”

Here is a timeline of Mexicali’s food safety woes:

August 6, 2010: Queso Cotija Cheese  is recalled for possible Staphylococcus aureus contamination.

October 27, 2010:  The FDA sends a warning letter to the company stating that environmental swabs taken during an inspection prompted by the recall tested positive for Listeria in five locations at the manufacturing facility. The letter lists 10 food safety violations and gave Mexicali 15 days to reply with a plan to address them.

 January 31, 2012: The FDA asks a federal court in New York to bar the company from operating “because of a history of unsanitary conditions and producing cheese in a facility contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.”

May 1, 2012: A NY judge signs a consent decree that bars the company from “receiving, preparing, processing, packing, holding or distributing any articles of food until it has completed FDA-approved measures to correct deficiencies, decontaminate their facility and comply with the law.”

At this point, what happened between May 1, when the company was told to stop manufacturing cheese, and June 29 ,when four kinds of cheese the company manufactured were recalled for potential Listeria contamination, is unclear.

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