FDA seizes Estrella cheeses over Listeria risk

Estrella Family Creamery listeriaThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Marshals have seized cheeses from Washington state-based Estrella Family Creamery amid an ongoing investigation of Listeria contamination, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle said.

Listeria can cause a sometimes fatal infection in young children, the frail or those with weakened immune systems. Even healthy people can get sick with a high fever, nausea, diarrhea, among other symptoms. The FDA said Listeria infections also can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

The seizure order, filed in the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington at Tacoma, cited insanitary conditions as the reason for the action. An FDA report with the court order said inspectors found that the "persistent strain of L. mono [Listeria] in the facility over time is significant in that it demonstrates that sanitation efforts were inadequate to remove this pathogenic organism." During inspections, the agency found "tape and peeling paint on cheese press handles; flying insects and spiders on the walls and ceiling of the milk room vestibule and in the cheese processing room," among other issues.

In a brief statement to customers on the creamery's site on Friday (Oct. 22), Kelli Estrella said, "Last night at about 5:30 three cars pulled into the yard with FDA and Federal Marshals, alarming our kids. They posted a seizure order that named all cheeses on the property. This is serious, it could put us out of business."

The Estrellas could not be reached immediately for comment. The creamery suspended cheese sales in September to test the products.

In September, the FDA warned consumers about a possible Listeria contamination in some of the creamery's cheeses. At the time, the creamery didn't issue a recall of its cheeses because none of the cheeses under scrutiny were distributed, according to the creamery owners.

Estrella cheeses are made with raw cow and goat milk and carry a higher risk of contamination than cheeses made with milk that has been pasteurized -- heating it to kill bacteria. The creamery's cheeses are sold at specialty cheese shops, farmers markets, over the Internet and at its farm store in Montesano, Wash.

Some of Estrella cheeses have been recalled earlier this year over fears of Listeria contamination. Its cheeses were recalled Feb. 11, Feb. 17 and March 5.

In a post on the creamery's website today (Oct. 25), and quoted by personal injury/product liability attorney Bill Marler in his blog, Kelli Estrella questioned the loss of freedoms in America and "... about how terrible it is that in this great nation we can hardly get something as basic as a simple unadulterated glass of health-giving milk."

That post has since been removed from the creamery site.
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