A deadly outbreak of Listeria stemming from contaminated cheese produced by Rizo-López Foods has sickened over 20 people across 11 states over the last 10 years, according to the CDC. The company has now issued a sweeping recall of all its cheese and dairy products.
Timeline of the Outbreak
The CDC first detected a cluster of Listeria cases linked to Hispanic-style fresh cheeses in November 2023. Their investigation traced it back to cheeses made or handled by Rizo-López Foods, with illnesses dating as far back as 2014.
Rizo-López Foods Listeria Outbreak Timeline:
|Sporadic Listeria illnesses linked to Rizo-López cheeses occur, but no clear outbreak identified by CDC
|CDC detects cluster of 7 Listeria cases linked to Hispanic fresh cheese
|More illnesses reported, traced back to Rizo-López
|February 6, 2024
|Rizo-López Foods recalls all cheese/dairy products
|February 6, 2024
|CDC investigation ongoing as illnesses continue to be reported
So the tainted cheeses have silently been causing Listeria infections for over 9 years before this current outbreak was flagged by public health agencies. The scope of the outbreak is still developing as the CDC reports new cases.
Expanding Outbreak Impact
As of February 6, 2024 when the recall was announced, the CDC reports at least 20 confirmed Listeria cases across 11 states linked to the outbreak. The case count seems to grow daily as this is still an evolving situation.
At least 2 deaths have been reported so far. Among the sickened are 6 pregnant women or newborns, whom Listeria poses the greatest risk for. Listeria can cause pregnancy loss, stillbirth, premature labor, and illness/death in newborns.
The outbreak has impacted a wide geographic area across much of the U.S., with confirmed cases so far in:
- New Mexico
- New York
The scope of the outbreak may still expand as more illnesses are likely to be reported retrospectively once the tainted products are taken off shelves.
Rizo López Foods Recall
Rizo López Foods produces Hispanic soft fresh cheeses like queso fresco and cotija which have become popular ingredients across American cuisine.
On February 6, 2024, working with the FDA and state partners, Rizo López Foods voluntarily recalled all cheese/dairy items produced at its California facility over concerns of Listeria contamination. This amounts to hundreds of products sold under brands like Rio Bravo, Chenco’s, and Rizo Lopez Cream.
The far-reaching recall includes items like:
- Queso fresco
- Cotija cheese
- Crema/sour cream
- Chile con queso
- Chipotle crema
- Ranchero style cheeses
- Cremas caseras yogurt
These were sold at major retailers like Walmart, Food Lion, Whole Foods, and Ralph’s along with smaller grocery stores across over 30 states. Most products have sell-by dates through February 2024.
Listeria is especially concerning in pregnant women, newborns, elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea.
Pregnant women typically just experience flu-like symptoms themselves, but the danger is the bacteria crossing the placenta and infecting the fetus. This can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth premature delivery, or a dangerous sepsis infection in the baby.
Listeria has a long incubation period of up to 2 months, meaning cases can emerge long after contaminated food is consumed. The high risk foods for Listeria are deli meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses, sprouts, ice cream, smoked seafood, and raw milk.
What Consumers Should Do
The CDC advises that if you have purchased any Rizo López Foods cheeses or dairy products, immediately throw them away even if part has already been eaten and you haven’t gotten sick. Thoroughly sanitize drawers/surfaces that stored the recalled products.
See the full list of recalled brands/products here: FDA Recall Notice
If you are experiencing Listeria symptoms like fever and muscle aches, promptly call your healthcare provider and report eating possibly contaminated cheese. At-risk groups should take extra care to stay away from recalled items.
Fallout for Rizo López Foods
The devastating outbreak and recall threatens to sink Rizo López Foods, a 25-year old family-owned company based in Artesia, California. Their facility and equipment are under intense FDA scrutiny to identify and eliminate the root causes of this persistent Listeria contamination.
Several major retailers have already pulled Rizo López products from shelves in response to public concern. Class action lawsuits brought by those sickened in the outbreak could also be financially ruinous for the company.
This outbreak shows the challenges small batch artisanal cheese producers face scaling up to mass supermarket distribution while maintaining consistent food safety. Listeria bacteria can stubbornly persist in cheesemaking environments. Early detection is critical to prevent outbreaks.
Rizo López faces a herculean effort to restore consumer trust in their brand after this damaging recall. Surviving as a company long-term seems doubtful according to food safety experts.
The human toll continues rising as over 20 illnesses are already linked to their products, including heartbreaking stillbirths and neonatal deaths. This tragic case underscores the need for stringent monitoring and sampling for high-risk foods like soft cheeses.
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