Listeria outbreak linked to recalled dairy products, including queso fresco and Cotija cheese

Rizo-López Foods Inc. recalled dozens of dairy products, including popular Super Bowl snacks queso fresco and Cotija cheese, after an investigation identified them as the source of a multistate Listeria outbreak that has led to 23 hospitalizations and two deaths.

The recalled products were distributed nationwide and include cheese, yogurt and sour cream sold under the brand names Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Dos Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 Whole Foods Market, according to a food safety alert from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The scale of the outbreak is likely greater than the currently reported numbers as some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria, according to the CDC. The agency is still investigating the outbreak in partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration.

What is Listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause serious, sometimes fatal, infections in young children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. Listeria infection in pregnant individuals can lead to miscarriages and stillbirths, the CDC said. Healthy individuals may experience only short-term symptoms.

The infection can manifest as a fever, muscle aches, excessive tiredness, severe headache, nausea, stomachache, or diarrhea. Symptoms typically begin within two weeks after eating contaminated food but may start as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks after, according to the CDC.

The CDC said it is aware of 26 people from 11 states who have been infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria between June 2014 and December 2023. The two deaths associated with the infections were reported in California and Texas.

What to do with recalled cheese, dairy

Consumers should check their refrigerators and freezers for any of the products and dispose of them immediately. They should also clean the refrigerator and any containers or surfaces that may have come into contact with the recalled products as Listeria can survive in the refrigerator and spread to other foods and surfaces, the CDC said.

Consumers should contact their health-care provider immediately if they experience any of the symptoms listed above after eating the recalled dairy products. They can contact Rizo-López Foods Inc. directly with questions at 1-833-296-2233, and report adverse events to the FDA.

Although the Listeria outbreak has been investigated twice before, once in 2017 and again in 2021, the CDC said it did not have enough data until now to identify the source of the outbreak. Recent interviews with sick people and facility screenings led the CDC to identify queso fresco and Cotija cheese made by Rizo-López Foods as the source of the illnesses.

This is not the first recall of Rizo-López Foods Inc. products related to Listeria, according to the CDC investigation. The company recalled its aged Cotija cheese in early January after Hawaii state officials found Listeria in the product.

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