Late last night Forever Cheese recalled all Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand, Forever Cheese lot # T9425 and/or production code 441202, from one specific production date due to possible Listeria Monocytogenes contamination. The cheese was sold to distributors for retailers and restaurants in CA, CO, D.C., FL, GA, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MT, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, PA, VA, WA between June 20 and August 9, 2012. Products were sold to supermarkets, restaurants and wholesale distributors. The cheese in question is Ricotta Salata brand Frescolina from one production date coded 441202 on the original wheel. There have been 14 reported illnesses in 11 states.

Where have I heard about cheese and milk-product outbreaks before – yes, up and down the halls at Marler Clark.

• In November 2011, the Washington State Department of Agriculture began to investigate unpasteurized (raw) milk dairy Cozy Valley Creamery after three Washington victims with strains of genetically identical E. coli O157:H7 reported consuming Cozy Valley raw milk products. At least two of the victims were children that developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) – a development of an E. coli infection that results in kidney failure. Cozy Valley recalled its raw skim and whole milk after the State’s environmental testing of the Tenino, Washington-based dairy showed evidence of E. coli contamination in the dairy’s milking parlor and processing areas. Recalled products were sold retail at the farm store and at Marlene’s Market in Tacoma, two Olympia Food Co-Op locations in Olympia, Olympia Local Foods in Tumwater, Yelm Co-op in Yelm, Mt. Community Co-op in Eatonville and Marlene’s Market in Federal Way.

• In early November, 2010, Costco, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that Bravo Farms Dutch Style Gouda Cheese sold and sampled at Costco Wholesale stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico was the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. At least 38 people in those five states became ill with a unique strain of E. coli O157:H7 that had never before been seen in the CDC’s PulseNet database. The public health investigation into the outbreak began in mid-October, as patients with E. coli O157:H7 infections were diagnosed in various states where the Costco “cheese road show” took place. Most of the victims either purchased the Bravo Farms Gouda cheese or sampled it at Costco stores. Arizona and Colorado reported the most outbreak cases: Arizona (19), Colorado (11), California (3), New Mexico (3), and Nevada (2). Additionally, 15 of 24 cheese samples collected tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children and the elderly. The samples came from four different types of Bravo Farms cheese, including cheddar, edam, gouda, and jack. And one sample, a cheddar cheese, tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.

• In the summer of 2008, an outbreak of Campylobacter jejuni in Del Norte County, California (near the Oregon border) that sickened 16 people and left one paralyzed was traced to Alexandre EcoDairy Farm raw milk. Fifteen of the people who were infected with Campylobacter consumed the milk; the 16th was an employee of the dairy. The consumers were part of a “cow-leasing” program, which gave them access to the milk. Mari Tardiff developed Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) following her Campylobacter illness. GBS is a rare and debilitating complication that left her paralyzed and on a ventilator for months. The Daily Triplicate in Crescent City, CA published a three-part story by Nick Grube about Mari’s illness and struggle for recovery.

• The Massachusetts Department of Health initiated an outbreak investigation November 2007 following the report of an 87-year-old man, John Powers, who had tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The investigation determined that Mr. Powers and 4 others contracted Listeria from pasteurized milk produced by Whittier Farms. Mr. Powers consumed coffee-flavored milk, which was later determined to be contaminated with Listeria. Of the five people sickened, three were male, and the median age was 75 (range 31-87); all five patients were hospitalized. All three of the males (75 to 87 years old), including Mr. Powers, died from sepsis attributed to Listeria, and died close to the time of their acute illness onset. The first case in a female was in a 31 year old woman who had chorioamnionitis at 36 weeks gestation. She delivered a healthy but premature infant. A subsequent placental culture tested positive for Listeria. The second case in a female was in a 34 year old woman who had a fever and abdominal pain. She experienced a stillbirth at 37 weeks gestation, and cultures of her blood, fetal blood, and placental tissue all were positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The investigation found Listeria in samples taken from the dairy. Those samples matched the victims’ cultures, as well as that in the milk. It turned out that Whittier Farms did not have an environmental monitoring program in place for Listeria monocytogenes. The dairy closed in February 2008, citing inability to afford the safety upgrades that were needed.

• On September 18, 2006, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) was notified that two patients were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). One of the patients had been culture-confirmed with an E. coli O157:H7 infection. In the following three weeks, four additional cases were identified, all with a genetically indistinguishable strain of E. coli from the hospitalized patient who had tested positive for E. coli. CDHS learned that all patients, including the patient hospitalized with HUS who did not test positive for E. coli, had consumed raw milk or colostrum purchased from Organic Pastures in the days before becoming ill, and joined with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) in an environmental investigation of the dairy. The CDHS/CDFA environmental investigation revealed that Organic Pastures’ dairy products purchased off store shelves contained unusually high aerobic plate counts. In addition, cows from the Organic Pastures Dairy tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, although the strain was not the same strain isolated from ill individuals. CDHS concluded that the likely source of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among Organic Pastures customers was unpasteurized dairy products.

• On December 12, 2005, the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Food Safety Program (FSP) was notified that the Washington Department of Health had received a report of a positive E. coli O157:H7 test in a patient from the Vancouver, Washington, area. WSDA FSP was further notified that the Clark County Health Department had determined that several E. coli cases had been caused by the consumption of raw milk produced by Dee Creek Farm in Woodland, Washington. Prior to the December outbreak, WSDA had learned of Dee Creek Farm’s cow-share program, and had ordered the farm to cease the dispensing, giving, trading, or selling of milk or to meet requirements for selling milk that had been laid out by WSDA. The letter was sent in August 2005, and WSDA received a response from Dee Creek Farm in September 2005, stating that the farm was not selling milk but that the farm’s owners intended to meet requirements for a milk producer and retail raw milk processor in the future.