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Investigators say Hispanic-style cheese may be linked to Listeria outbreak

February 16, 2021

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Credit: CDC/Jennifer Oosthuizen

Federal health officials are investigating an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections possibly linked to Hispanic-style soft and fresh cheese (e.g., queso fresco, queso blanco or queso panela). Seven people in four states have been hospitalized.

Until the source is confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people who are at risk of serious illness from L. monocytogenes not to eat any Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses. Following are individuals at risk and possible symptoms, according to the CDC.

  • Newborn infants can develop a life-threatening infection if their mothers ate contaminated food during pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women may experience fever, fatigue and muscle aches or infection that leads to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery.
  • People with weakened immune systems and adults age 65 and older may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions, fever and muscle aches.

People who are not at risk of severe illness are advised to only eat products labeled, “Made from pasteurized milk.” However, according to the Food and Drug Administration, Hispanic-style soft cheese made from pasteurized milk also has caused Listeria outbreaks when it became contaminated in facilities with unsanitary conditions.

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