According to the US Attorney’s Office, a Miami-Dade County resident was sentenced to 15 months in prison, by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr., for distributing contaminated cheese. Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Justin Green, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
Christian Rivas, the owner of Oasis Brands, Inc. (“Oasis”), located in Miami, Florida, previously pled guilty to a two-count criminal Information. Pursuant to Count 1, a felony, Rivas, with the intent to defraud and mislead, delivered cheese processed and packed at the Oasis facility into interstate commerce that was “adulterated . . . in that it contained lysteria monocytogenes (“listeria”) a deleterious substance, which may render the food injurious to health,” in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 331(a) and 333(a)(2). Pursuant to Count 2, a misdemeanor, Rivas, as the responsible corporate official of Oasis, delivered cheese into interstate commerce, “which was prepared, packed and held [at the Oasis facility] under insanitary conditions whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health,” in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 331(a) and 333(a)(1).
According to the court record, including the sentencing hearing and stipulated statement of facts in support of Rivas’ guilty plea, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had alerted the FDA to the fact that cheese supplied by Oasis and located at a Virginia grocery store had been randomly sampled on July 26, 2014 and had tested positive for the presence of listeria. A resulting FDA inspection of the Oasis processing facility revealed “numerous failures to comply with current Good Manufacturing Practice federal regulatory standards,” as well as several environmental swab samples taken from within the facility which tested positive for the presence of listeria.
At the close of the first inspection on August 22, 2014, Rivas agreed to do the following: (1) suspend manufacturing of new cheese products; (2) hire a consultant to inform the firm how to clean its facility; (3) stop distribution of finished food products in its inventory until a laboratory (retained by Oasis at its cost) could confirm that Oasis’ cheese products and its facility were negative for listeria; and (4) place all in-process product which was in the process of being manufactured or packaged and on the verge of distribution on hold until further discussions with FDA officials.
From October 7 through December 16, 2014, the FDA conducted a follow-up inspection at the Oasis facility and collected product samples of “Lacteos Santa Martha Cuajada en Hoja Fresh Curd,” then in storage at the facility, one of which later tested positive for listeria.
The court record indicates that subsequent to the first inspection and during the period September 24, 2014 through October 1, 2014, Rivas had, in violation of his agreement with the FDA, finished packaging multiple trays of cheese then held in-processing and had gone on to ship and distribute these items. The cheese in question also consisted of numerous cases of individually packaged “Lacteos Santa Martha Cuajada en Hoja Fresh Curd.” Rivas had initiated these shipments after he had learned from his testing laboratory, on September 24, 2014, that a sample of this same product had tested positive for the presence of listeria.
During the course of the sentencing hearing, the Court was informed that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had determined through DNA testing that an identified number of individuals were physically harmed as a consequence of having consumed contaminated cheese from Oasis during the summer and fall of 2014.
According to the CDC, the outbreak traced to the Oasis Brand cheese sickened people in Georgia, New York, Tennessee and Texas. Three of the illnesses were related to pregnancy, with one newborn diagnosed with Listeria infection.
Rivas joins other food industry executives sentenced to federal prison on criminal counts related to outbreaks. Those cases include:
- Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster sentenced in the Quality Egg case related to a 2010 Salmonella outbreak; and
- Stewart Parnell and his brother Michael Parnell, along with Mary Wilkerson, sentenced in the Peanut Corporation of America case related to an E. coli outbreak.