The sixth-largest multistate food poisoning outbreak of 2015 was a Listeria outbreak linked to soft cheeses produced by Karoun Dairies Inc. Thirty people in 10 states were sickened after eating cheeses distributed by Karoun and sold under a variety of brand names. Three people died and one woman had a miscarriage.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated on the investigation of the outbreak. Together they identified five rare outbreak strains that had been causing illness since August 8, 2010. The most recent illnesses were reported during the summer of 2015.
Most of those sickened reported eating Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Mediterranean, or Mexican-style cheeses, including ani, paneer, feta, Middle Eastern-style string cheese, nabulsi or village cheese before they became ill. Brands distributed by Karoun were mentioned specifically. The case patients in this outbreak range in age from less than 1 year to 92 years old. The median age was 73. Seventy percent of those sickened were female. Twenty of 30 people with available information were of Middle Eastern or Eastern European descent or shopped at Middle Eastern or Eastern European-style markets.
A recall was issued on September 16 for the cheeses sold under the brand names: Karoun, Arz, Gopi, Queso Del Valle, Central Valley Creamery, Gopi, and Yanni. The cheeses were vacuum packed, in jars or in pails in weights varying from 5 ounces to 30 pounds and distributed to grocery stores and food service accounts. A complete list of retailers that sold the cheeses was not made available but two stores that carried them were Publix and Sam’s Club.
The cheeses were made for Karoun Dairies at Central Valley Cheese, Inc. manufacturing facility in Turlock, California. FDA investigators found Listeria closely related to the outbreak strains at the Central Valley Cheese, establishing an epidemiologic link between the cheeses and ill consumers.
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, stillbirth, premature delivery and infections in newborns.
By state, the number of illnesses were as follows: California (18), Colorado (1), Illinois (2), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (1), New York (2), Ohio (1), Tennessee (1), Virginia (1), and Washington (1). Twenty eight people were hospitalized. Six of the illnesses were pregnancy-related, with one resulting in a miscarriage. There were three deaths reported, one in California in 2012, one in Ohio in 2012, and one in California in 2015.