CT DPH Issues Public Health Alert on Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses

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HARTFORD, CT – The Connecticut Department of Public Health is urging the public to be aware of potential health risks associated with ‘Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses,’ after receiving an alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

DPH officials said the FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and state and local partners, is investigating a multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections potentially linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.

“We are informing local health departments of this federal investigation and urging Connecticut residents, restaurants and food retailers to be aware of the potential risks,” said DPH Acting Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford after receiving the federal alert.

According to the FDA’s information, available here, one Connecticut resident has so far been identified as becoming ill and hospitalized potentially related to the suspected outbreak.

“FDA has initiated an investigation and is collecting information to try to determine the source of the outbreak,” the FDA notice said. “Although the investigation is ongoing, CDC’s analysis of epidemiologic information indicates that Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses are the leading hypotheses for the cause of the illnesses. No specific type or brand of cheese has been confirmed as the source of illness. CDC reported that seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and Virginia. Six of the seven ill people are Hispanic.

Of the four people interviewed, three reported eating at least one type of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses, and all three reported eating queso fresco.”

FDA is in the beginning stages of this investigation, and there may be additional products impacted by this outbreak. As this outbreak investigation continues, the FDA will provide additional updates as more information becomes available.

FDA Recommendations:

If you are at higher risk for severe Listeria illness (if you are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or treatments) do not eat any Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses (like queso fresco, queso blanco, and queso panela), until we identify a specific type or brand that is making people sick.

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have these symptoms after eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses:
• Pregnant people typically experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
• People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.

Generally, make sure the Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses (like queso fresco) you eat have labels that state, “Made with pasteurized milk.”

Be aware that Hispanic-style soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk have caused Listeria outbreaks. Although pasteurization of milk kills Listeria, products made from pasteurized milk can still become contaminated if they are produced in facilities with unsanitary conditions.

Restaurants and retailers that serve or sell Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses should follow FDA’s safe handling and cleaning advice.

Please visit the FDA website here or at www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/outbreak-investigation-listeria-monocytogenes-hispanic-style-fresh-and-soft-cheeses-february-2021 for case counts and additional information.

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