Beware of queso fresco and other similar soft cheeses
That’s the message Saturday from the state Department of Public Health, after an alert was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
At issue are seven cases of patients with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that can cause fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea.
“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,” the FDA alert says. “ No specific type or brand of cheese has been confirmed as the source of illness.”
Seven patients have been identified in Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Virginia.
The CDC interviewed four of those patients, of whom “three reported eating at least one type of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses, and all three reported eating queso fresco,” the FDA said.
“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,” DPH Acting Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford said.
According to the FDA, patients are at higher risk of a severe reaction to Listeria if they are pregnant, over 65 years old or have a weakened immune system.
The FDA warns that people who fit those criteria should avoid eating any Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses, specifically queso fresco, queso blanco and queso panela, until a specific brand or manufacturer is identified.
Using pasteurized cheese may not be a protection, according to the FDA.
“Be aware that Hispanic-style soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk have caused Listeria outbreaks,” the alert says. “Although pasteurization of milk kills Listeria, products made from pasteurized milk can still become contaminated if they are produced in facilities with unsanitary conditions.”