January 24, 2020

Salmonella in Unpasteurized Cheese Sickens Dozens in MN

At least 25 people in Minnesota have contracted Salmonella infections from unpasteurized Mexican-style cheese or, raw queso fresco, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Fifteen of them were hospitalized and have been released.

SalmonellaDuring interviews with health officials, many case patients reported eating raw queso fresco that they purchased or received from someone who made it in a private home. The cheesemaker made home deliveries and also may have sold the cheese on a corner near East Lake Street in Minneapolis. Anyone who has this cheese should not eat it.

Lab tests confirm that 18 of the case patients were all sickened by the same strain of Salmonella. Seven other people who had contact with them are probable cases as lab tests were not available for them. Health officials tracked the source of the raw milk used to make the cheese to a farm in Dakota County where samples from raw milk also tested positive for the outbreak strain.

“It only takes a few bacteria to cause illness. Milking a cow is not a sterile process and even the cleanest dairy farms can have milk that is contaminated. That’s why pasteurization – or the heat treatment of milk to kill the harmful pathogens – is so important,” Dr. Heidi Kassenborg, director of Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Dairy and Food Inspection Division, said in a statement.

In Minnesota, it’s legal for people to buy raw milk directly from a farm for their own consumption. But it’s not legal to redistribute it. It’s also not legal to produce cheese without a license or without following food safety laws. Yet Minnesota health officials are worried that this may not be an isolated incident and that some people may not be aware of the risks involved with raw dairy products.

“It’s important for people to be aware of the inherent risk of consuming any raw dairy product from any source,” Dr. Carlota Medus, of MDH said. “We encourage people to think carefully about those risks and know that the risks are especially high for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.”

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