Whole Foods Market Recalls Ricotta Salata Cheese

Whole Foods Market announced it is recalling a brand of imported ricotta salata cheese in a national recall affecting 21 states due to a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak.

The cheese comes from Whole Food supplier Forever Cheese Inc. in New York. Forever Cheese recalled the product because it may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Forever Cheese issued a recall of one lot – 800 wheels of ricotta salata, or approximately 4,800 pounds of the cheese. Jeff DiMeo of Forever Cheese said the recalled Frescolina brand ricotta salata cheese is from one batch manufactured in Italy’s Puglia region, but would not name the Italian company who manufactured it. The FDA confirmed Listeria was present in an uncut sample of cheese from that batch. DiMeo said he usually advises customers not to keep the cheese for more than 30 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, said the ricotta cheese can have up to a four-month shelf life, so some consumers may still have it in their homes.

We have previously blogged about this recall a week ago, as this cheese has been linked to 14 illnesses in 11 states, according to the CDC.  All 14 people were hospitalized and three deaths have been reported.  According to the CDC, Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. It can also cause miscarriages in pregnant women.

The victim and his wife filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on September 17, 2012. According to the Complaint filed in this case, the victim purchased a variety of cheeses from the cheese department at Whole Foods Market on May 27, 2012. The lawsuit states that the victim consumed a portion of each of the cheese purchased on May 27, 2012 over the following days. Several days after consuming the cheese, the victim began experiencing symptoms of Listeriosis; nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and fever.  When these symptoms worsened, he was hospitalized. A spinal tap was done and cerebrospinal fluid was biopsied, which tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. Testing done on this sample by the CDC determined that the PFGE pattern (DNA fingerprint) of the Listeria that sickened him was the outbreak strain.

The CDC, FDA and State Health Department investigated and found the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample from an uncut wheel of Frescolina ricotta salata cheese imported and then distributed by Forever Cheese, according to the CDC’s announcement of the outbreak.

On September 12, 2012, Whole Foods Markets initiated a recall of the Frescolina ricotta salata cheese. According to the Whole Foods recall notice, “The recalled ricotta salata cheese Frescolina brand cheese was cut into wedges, packaged in clear wrap and sold with a Whole Foods Market scale label using PLU 293427. All “sell by” dates through October 2, 2012 are affected.” The cheese was sold in Whole Foods Market stores in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

The Complaint alleges that prior to May 27, 2012, Whole Foods processed Frescolina ricotta salata cheese that was previously contaminated with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes by removing it from its original packaging, cutting it into smaller portions, repackaging it for retail sale and relabeling it. The Complaint then states, “In doing so, Defendant, Whole Foods, cross contaminated other cheese products sold in Whole Foods stores with the outbreak strain. The victim consumed a portion of each of the cheeses purchased on May 27, 2012, over the following days.”

“This is a complicated national outbreak that raises a number of important questions:  when, where and how did this pasteurized cheese become contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes and how did cross contamination spread it to cheese other than the recalled product?” This is an expensive, imported cheese that was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes after it was pasteurized.

The Complaint states the victim suffered “profound nervous system and cognitive dysfunction, including ventilator-dependent respiratory failure” and seeks money damages for himself and his wife.

Whole Foods Market is a reputable, higher end food market, where consumers who don’t mind paying extra money for high quality, healthy foods can feel confident knowing they are purchasing good, wholesome, safe food.

Consumers have a right to purchase cheese that is safe and free from bacterium that causes serious injury and death, especially when they are paying top dollar for expensive, imported cheese.

Do you think Whole Foods Market is at fault since they re-packaged the imported cheese from a big piece into several smaller pieces of cheese?

For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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