An outbreak of the foodborne disease listeria has been spreading throughout the Northeast, and it's prompting a large recall of soft raw milk cheeses commonly found at Whole Foods and elsewhere.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the current toll of listeria cases linked to cheeses produced by the New York-based Vulto Creamery. At least six people across four states have caught the same strain of bacteria behind listeria, Listeria monocytogenes, including a newborn, since September of last year. All have been hospitalized as a result, and two people from Connecticut and Vermont have died (one widow is suing).
Currently, Vulto Creamery has recalled all eight brands of its raw milk cheeses, due to possible contamination, and one of its most prominent retailers, Whole Foods, have followed suit by recallingVulto products from several of its stores in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Maine and Connecticut. At this point, however, no cases have been tied to Vulto cheeses brought from Whole Foods. Though the affected cheeses are sold nationwide, the majority are sold in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Raw cheese is made from milk that hasn't been pasteurized, so as to retain its supposed probiotic effect. The downside is that dangerous bacteria are more likely to linger.
Only 1,600 people become actively sick from listeria in the U.S. annually — out of a total 48 million people sickened by a stomach bug — but 260 ultimately die from it, a stark death rate. Its symptoms normally include diarrhea, fever, and muscle aches, but the bacteria also frequently make its way into the bloodstream and even brain, causing sepsis and meningitis, respectively. It can also cause miscarriages in infected pregnant women.
Typically found in soil and water, listeria is a hardy bug that can survive for years in food processing plants and is known to contaminate everything from cheese to hot dogs to vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while cooking and pasteurizing do effectively kill the bacteria, it can survive refrigeration unlike many other foodborne germs. Like many other foodborne bugs, though, listeria can especially find it easy to hide away in raw milk products.
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