A federal court has barred Vulto Creamery, the New York cheese manufacturer linked to a deadly multistate outbreak of listeriosis, from making, selling, and distributing any food products until it takes specific measures to prevent Listeria and other dangerous foodborne microorganisms from contaminating its food.
In a March 19 complaint initiated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. alleged that Vulto Creamery LLC and its owner, Johannes H. Vulto, violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by making and distributing ready-to-eat cheese it knew could be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a form of cold-resistant bacteria that can cause deadly infections in humans.
A 2017 investigation led by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that Vulto was the sole source of a multistate outbreak of listeriosis that sickened at least eight people. Two of those patients died from the illness.
Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by the ingestion of Listeria through contaminated food. The illness is particularly dangerous to those with weakened immune systems, as well as pregnant women, children, and the elderly. Listeriosis symptoms include fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, or other gastrointestinal issues – all of which may last between a few days to a few weeks depending on the health of the individual.
The U.S. asserted in its complaint that Vulto manufactured, packed, and stored its cheese products in unsanitary conditions. Company records revealed that required food-safety tests at the Vulto facility were positive for a type of Listeria. But despite these tests results, Vulto never made an effort to identify the species of Listeria contaminating its products or its source, federal prosecutors claimed.
Compounding the problem, Vulto also failed to conduct microbial testing of finished cheese products even after it found Listeria contamination on surfaces in its production facilities—surfaces that its food products contacted. Vulto uses raw, unpasteurized milk to make its ready-to-eat cheese, which may also facilitate the spread of germs.
Vulto and its owner agreed to a consent decree mandating that they may not manufacture or distribute food unless they comply with specific remedial measures, such as hiring a qualified independent expert to develop a sanitation program to mitigate the risk of Listeria contamination. The company must also first receive the FDA’s written determination that its manufacturing practices comply with food-safety laws.