Contaminated ricotta salata cheese is the likely source of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria that has sickened at least 14 people in 11 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced.
All 14 people have been hospitalized with Listeriosis, an illness caused by the consumption of food tainted with the Listeria virus. Three of those sickened have died, CDC officials confirmed Wednesday.
Federal health officials identified the suspect cheese as ricotta salata cheese imported from Italy and distributed by Forever Cheese Inc. of New York. Forever Cheese recalled 800 wheels of its ricotta salata, roughly 4,800 pounds, on Monday in response to the outbreak.
The cheese was distributed to retail stores and restaurants in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington between June 20 and Aug. 9.
Listeriosis, the illness that can be triggered by eating food contaminated with Listeria, can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, fever, body aches, and other flu-like symptoms. The illness is particularly deadly to young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems. Infection during pregnancy can lead lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and severe, life-threatening infections in newborns.
According to data collected by the CDC and state health and regulatory officials, the illnesses were diagnosed between March 28 to August 30, 2012. Four of the illnesses involved pregnant women, with two newborn children infected. The other 10 victims ranged in age from 56 years to 87 years, with a median age of 79 years. The three deaths occurred in Nebraska, New York, and Minnesota.
About 800 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis are reported each year in the United States and typically 3 or 4 outbreaks are identified and reported to CDC. Recent outbreaks of listeria have been linked to cheese, cantaloupe, sprouts, celery, and ready-to-eat deli meat.