June 15, 2024

FDA Strategy Enhances Safety of Soft Queso Fresco Cheeses

The FDA has released a prevention strategy to try to enhance the safety of soft Queso Fresco cheeses (QFT) after several foodborne illness outbreaks.

FDA Strategy Enhances Safety of Soft Queso Fresco Cheeses

From 2014 to 2017 there were five listeriosis outbreaks in the United States that were linked to the consumption of soft fresh Queso type cheeses. There were 12 more outbreaks of listeriosis in the United States during the time period of 1998 to 2014 that were associated with soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk. Most were associated with soft Queso Fresco type cheeses.

And in 2021 the FDA investigated a deadly Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to El Abuelito Cheese products that sickened at least 13 people in four states and killed one person who lived in Maryland.

Historically, these outbreaks have been associated with cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, but the more recent outbreaks are associated with pasteurized milk products that were contaminated during the cheese making process.

The strategy is a review of outbreak findings, historical data, and stakeholder engagement to identify public health interventions that can be used to reduce future outbreaks. A fact sheet to help the manufacturers of these products understand food safety risks that can occur during production.

These measures include:

Prioritizing inspections with environmental sampling at soft fresh QFT manufacturing firms.

Engaging with state partners to increase sampling of QFT cheese at retail operations in the U.S.  for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. This could result in potentially contaminated products being recalled and removed from the market.

Develop and distribute a publication that outlines the potential causes of recent listeriosis outbreaks in soft cheeses and a fact sheet that describes requirements for Listeria monocytogenes control in cheese manufacturing.

Collaborate with states and other food safety partners to disseminate training and education materials to producers and consumers of soft fresh QFT.

The FDA hopes to ensure that the cheese industry is aware of requirements applicable to the product of these soft cheeses, enhance compliance, and verify that these producers are adhering to these requirements.

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