The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a warning about a Salmonella outbreak linked to illegally manufactured Mexican cheese. At least 100 people are sickened in this outbreak that has affected 13 counties. They are: Boone, Cook (including Chicago), DuPage, Fayette, Kane, Lake, LaSalle, Macon, Marion, McHenry, Vermillion, Washington, and Will.
The illnesses have been occurring since July 2012. The same strain of Salmonella has sickened 100 people and is associated with the cheese. The average patient age is 9 years, and one-third of all patients have been hospitalized in this outbreak. A sample of the cheese taken from the home of a patient tested positive for Salmonella bacteria. Public health officials are trying to identify the manufacturer of the cheese.
The cheese is not labeled and is often wrapped in aluminum foil. Many of the ill ate Mexican-style cheese obtained from worksites, including factories, at train stations, from street vendors, and from relatives and friends. If you did purchase a Mexican-style cheese but can’t clearly identify that the product was made by a licensed or regulated manufacturer, do not eat it.
Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, IDPH Director said in a statement, “We’re concerned that people who consume this manufactured cheese may become sick from Salmonella. It is important for you to check the labeling to make sure the product was made by a licensed dairy manufacturer – even if you purchase the cheese from a grocery store. If you become ill after eating Mexican-style cheese, contact your health care provider and your local health department.”
If you do become ill after eating this type of cheese, save a sample in a double-wrapped bag for possible testing. Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. The disease can be very serious in young children, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, and anyone with a compromised immune system.
Legitimately produced Mexican-style cheese is in the refrigerated case of the dairy department at retail stores. The label information should specify the legal name of the product, the name and address of the distributor or processor, the quantity of the package, an ingredient statement, and nutrition facts.