'Queso Fresco' Cheeses May Pose Health Risk

FDA Issues New Health Advisory on Soft Cheeses Made From Raw Milk

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 15, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

March 15, 2005 - Some soft cheeses commonly used in Mexican and Latin cooking may present a health risk, according to a new FDA warning.

The agency has issued a health advisory on certain soft cheeses made from raw, unpasteurized milk after cases of tuberculosis in New York City were recently linked to people eating "queso fresco" style cheeses imported from Mexico.

The FDA says eating any type of soft cheese made from raw milk can pose a health riskraw milk can pose a health risk to elderly people, pregnant women, newborns, and others with weakened immune systems. Such raw milk soft cheeses can cause several serious infectious diseases, including, listeriosis,brucellosis,salmonellosis, and tuberculosis.

Officials say the raw milk soft cheeses of biggest concern are those made in Mexico and Central American countries.

The soft, white queso-fresco style cheese is the most popular type of cheese used in the Hispanic community and may include Queso Panela, Asadero, and Blanco. The cheeses may be imported or produced in the U.S.

Recently, cases of tuberculosis in New York City have been linked to consumption of queso-fresco style cheeses, either imported from Mexico or consumed in Mexico, which were contaminated with Mycobacterium bovis.

The FDA recommends against eating any unripened raw milk soft cheeses from Mexico, Nicaragua, or Honduras. Research shows that these cheeses are often contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.

As a result, officials recommend that people refrain from purchasing or eating raw milk soft cheese from vendors like flea markets, door-to-door sellers, and vendors who sell out of their truck. In addition, the FDA warns against eating queso fresco cheeses carried in luggage from Mexico, Nicaragua, or Honduras and cheese made at home.

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SOURCE: News release, FDA.

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