The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shut down production at a Delaware cheese factory last month in the wake of a Listeria outbreak in Maryland and a death in California. An investigation has linked both to the company’s Hispanic-style cheeses. Roos Foods Inc. — which recalled 16 varieties of its cheeses in February after a death in California and seven reported illnesses in Maryland — had the food facility registration for its Kenton, Del., plant suspended by the FDA.
A two-week inspection of the facility revealed numerous unsanitary conditions, leading the FDA to conclude that there was a “reasonable probability” that the company’s products could cause “serious adverse health consequences or death to humans.” Inspectors found a massive roof leak that was dumping water into the plant’s cheese processing room; standing water on the floor of the cheese curd processing room; a rusted ceiling and supports that could not be properly sanitized; food residues left on equipment after cleaning had been performed; and milk storage tanks and transfer piping that were left uncapped, potentially allowing contaminants to enter, according to the FDA.
The FDA, which investigated the outbreak with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that it will vacate the suspension order and reinstate Roos Foods’ registration once it determines that foods produced at the facility no longer pose a health threat. On Feb. 23, Roos Foods issued the recall of its Mexicana, Amigo, Santa Rosa De Lima and Anita brands, which were distributed through retail stores in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
The recall came after two pairs of mothers and newborns and one additional newborn were reported ill and hospitalized in Maryland. The other three cases were all adults, including the lone fatality in California. All of them reported consuming soft or semisoft Hispanic-style cheese and all shopped at different locations of the same Hispanic food chain. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services collected samples of one of the brand’s fresh cheese curd and found that they contained Listeria monocytogenes. In February, the Department instructed people who purchased the product not to consume it. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also tested samples and issued a similar warning to consumers four days later. The District of Columbia followed with a warning on Feb. 20.
As we have mentioned in several prior issues, Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems, the CDC said. Listeria has also been linked to a variety of ready-to-eat foods, including unpasteurized milk and dairy products, Mexican-style or soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, processed deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood and store-prepared deli salads. Roos Foods produces a variety of handmade dairy products of Latin origin and makes them accessible to Hispanic families living in the U.S.
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