Federal health regulators indicate a rapidly growing listeria outbreak which has emerged in several states appears to be linked to El Abuelito Queso Fresco cheese, resulting in a nationwide recall.
The FDA announced the El Abuelito Queso Fresco recall on February 19, after sample testing connected the fresh soft cheese products to a strain of Listeria monocytogenes identified in food poisoning outbreaks in at least four states.
At least seven people have been infected as part of the Listeria food poisoning outbreak, resulting in all seven people being hospitalized, according to a report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
El Abuelito has stopped production and distribution of the product while the investigation into the source of the problem is ongoing.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health collected product samples of El Abuelito brand Queso Fresco cheeses from a store where a sick person bought cheeses. Lab analysis showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in samples of El Abuelito 10 oz packages marked as Lot A027 with an expiration date of 2/26/21.
Further samples are undergoing whole genome sequencing analysis to determine if the samples match the outbreak strain. There is not enough evidence to determine the outbreak is conclusively linked to El Abuelito Queso Fresco, however, FDA and CDC experts note.
The recall affects all El Abuelito Queso Fresco products with sell by dates through 03/28/21, including products sold as El Abuelito Cheese brand, distributed in CT, NJ, PA, NY; and Rio Grande Food Products brand distributed in VA, NC, MD; and Rio Lindo food brand distributed in NC and MD. A full list of affected products is listed in the recall notice.
The products were distributed through Feb. 16, 2021, and were available for sale in supermarkets, wholesale and retail stores.
The Listeria monocytogenes organism can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and persons with weakened immune systems. Even healthy individuals can suffer side effects, including short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria monocytogenes infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
Onset of Listeria infection begins within one to four weeks, but can start as early as the same day. Listeria infections can mimic other illnesses, so symptoms should be monitored.
The FDA and CDC urge consumers who have purchased the recalled cheeses not to consume them, and to return the products to where they purchased it for a full refund. Consumers with questions can contact El Abuelito by calling (973) 345-3503.