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Publisher’s Platform: What’s up with Listeria and Cheese


As of February 6, 2024, a total of 26 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria have been reported from 11 states: Arizona 4, California 8, Colorado 4, Florida 1, Georgia 1, Nevada 1, North Carolina 1, Oregon 1, Tennessee 2, Texas 2, Washington 1. Two deaths have been reported, one from California and one from Texas.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from June 15, 2014, to December 10, 2023. Of 26 people with information available, 23 have been hospitalized. 

Among people who are pregnant, Listeria can cause pregnancy loss, premature birth, or a life-threatening infection in their newborn. In this outbreak, two people got sick during their pregnancy and one person had a pregnancy loss. There are also two newborns in the case count for this outbreak because Listeria can be passed to newborns during pregnancy.

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the 22 people interviewed, 16 (73%) reported eating queso fresco, cotija, or other similar cheeses. Among people who remembered specific brands, three people who got sick between 2014 and 2022 reported Don Francisco brand queso fresco or cotija. Don Francisco is one of the brands of recalled cheeses.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. CDC PulseNet manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. DNA fingerprinting is performed on bacteria using a method called whole genome sequencing (WGS).

WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples from 2014 to present are closely related genetically. This suggests that people in this outbreak got sick from the same food.

In January 2024, the Hawaii State Department of Health’s Food and Drug Branch collected a sample of aged cotija cheese product made by Rizo-López Foods during routine sampling. Testing identified the outbreak strain of Listeria in the product.

FDA conducted inspections at the Rizo-López Foods facility and collected food and environmental samples for testing. FDA found the outbreak strain of Listeria on a container where cheeses are kept before they are packaged.

On January 11, 2024, Rizo-López Foods, Inc. recalled the aged cotija cheese product after Hawaii state officials found Listeria in it.

On February 6, 2024, Rizo-López Foods, Inc. recalled all cheese and other dairy products made in their facility. They have also temporarily stopped producing and distributing these products while their investigation is ongoing.

  • Campesino
  • Casa Cardenas
  • Don Francisco
  • Dos Ranchitos
  • El Huache
  • Food City
  • La Ordena
  • Rio Grande
  • Rizo Bros
  • San Carlos
  • Santa Maria
  • Tio Francisco
  • 365 Whole Foods Market

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