3 Dead in Listeria Outbreak From Ricotta Cheese

Recalled Frescolina Ricotta Salata Linked to 14 Illnesses in 11 States, D.C.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 12, 2012

Sept. 12, 2012 -- Three people have died and 11 others are hospitalized after eating recalled Frescolina brand ricotta salata cheese contaminated with listeria bacteria.

The Sept. 10 recall by Forever Cheese Inc. included one lot of the imported Italian cheese. It was sold to restaurants and retailers in California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington between June 20 and Aug. 9.

The recall affects lot number T9425 and/or production code 441202. Products were sold to supermarkets, restaurants, and wholesale distributors. Ricotta salata is a crumbly, solid cheese. It is not the same as ricotta cheese, normally sold in plastic containers or tubs.

As of Sept. 11, the CDC had reports of 14 illnesses, in California (1 case), Colorado (1), Washington, D.C. (1), Maryland (3), Minnesota (1), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (1), New York (1), Ohio (1), Pennsylvania (1), and Virginia (1).

The three deaths occurred in Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York.

Four of the illnesses were linked to pregnancies. There were no fetal deaths, but two of the cases were in newborns.

The CDC advises people not to eat imported Frescolina brand ricotta salata cheese, particularly if they are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, or are older adults.

The cheese has a four-month shelf life, so it still may be in refrigerators or for sale at stores.

If the cheese is found in your home:

  • Throw it away in a sealed plastic bag into a sealed trash can.
  • Use hot water and soap to wash areas of the refrigerator where the cheese was stored.
  • Wash all cutting boards, utensils, and surfaces that came into contact with the cheese. If possible, use the dishwasher to clean these items.

Listeriosis Symptoms

Listeriosis usually begins with diarrhea or other intestinal symptoms. Patients soon develop fever and muscle aches. What happens next depends on a person's risk factors:

  • While pregnant women usually get a mild flu-like illness, listeria infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or fatal infection of the newborn.
  • Other adults may develop headache, stiff neck, mental confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.
  • Young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of serious infection.

Cooking kills listeria bacteria, but they can grow and multiply in the refrigerator.