December 10, 2016

FDA Finds Listeria at Plant, Links Karoun Dairies to Outbreak

Panela Listeria RecallFDA inspectors found Listeria at a manufacturing facility where cheese associated with a a deadly Listeria outbreak is made. Genomic testing has revealed that the strain found in samples taken from the plant closely resembles the outbreak strain in those who became ill.

An outbreak associated with soft cheeses produced by Karoun Dairies, Inc. of San Fernando, California has caused 24 illnesses, one miscarriage and one fatality. The most recent illnesses were reported this summer. Then health officials used genetic testing to identify cases in nine states going back to 2010. This is similar to how the Blue Bell Listeria outbreak was discovered and investigated.

Several of the case patients in  this outbreak mentioned eating Karoun cheeses before becoming ill. Investigators collected samples from Central Valley Cheese Inc., a manufacturing facility in Turlock, California that makes cheese for Karoun Dairies. Whole genome sequencing tests on two environmental samples collected this month showed they closely resembled strains cultured from those who became ill. Tests on samples collected from the same facility in 2010 also showed Listeria strains highly related to the outbreak strains. These tests establish an epidemiologic link between the illnesses and the cheeses.

A recall has been issued for the cheeses which were vacuum packed, in jars or in pails under the brands: Karoun, Arz, Gopi, Queso Del Valle, Central Valley Creamery, Gopi, and Yanni. They were sold in varying weights vary from 5 ounces to 30 pounds. They were distributed to nationwide to grocery stores and food service accounts.  Restaurants and consumers who have purchased these cheeses should not serve or eat them as Listeria poses a serious health threat. A complete list of retailers who sold the cheeses has not been made available but two stores that carried them are Publix and Sam’s Club.

Symptoms of a Listeria infection include high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Those at high risk of Listeria infections are young children, seniors, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

In this outbreak, five of the cases were pregnancy-related, one them resulted in a miscarriage. Twenty-one people were hospitalized. The death was reported from Ohio.

The case patients in this outbreak range in age from less than 1 year to 92. The median age is 77. Seventy-five percent of ill people are female. Fifteen are of Middle Eastern or Eastern European descent or shopped at Middle Eastern-style markets.

By state, the case count is as follows: California (14), Colorado (1), Illinois (1), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (1), New York (2), Ohio (1), Tennessee (1), and Washington (1).

Of 22 cases patients for whom information is available, 82 percent said they  consumed soft cheeses, 89 percent  reported eating Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Mediterranean, or Mexican-style cheeses, including ani, feta (including Bulgarian feta), Middle Eastern-style string cheese, and nabulsi.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working together with state health departments to get more information about this outbreak. The investigation is ongoing.

 

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