Cheese recall due to listeria outbreak impacts Sargento

Cheese recall due to listeria outbreak impacts Sargento

A well-known cheese maker — Wisconsin’s Sargento Foods — is being affected by a series of recalls linked to a California dairy company, Rizo-López Foods, due to a deadly listeria outbreak.

Sargento Foods notified certain food service customers that it was recalling shredded cheese from Rizo-López that had been distributed as an ingredient to them, a spokesperson for Sargento told CBS News.

The recall involved a “limited amount of our foodservice and ingredients products,” and involved cheese obtained from the California company, the spokesperson said. It did not involve cheese sold to consumers, but business customers, she noted.

It had been initiated on Feb. 5, 2024, by Plymouth, Wisconsin-based Sargento and is ongoing, according to an event report posted online by the Food and Drug Administration.

“This news stemmed from California-based Rizo-Lopez Foods Inc.’s recall last month of its Cotija cheese due to a related listeria outbreak,” the company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. “As soon as we became aware of the issue, we further investigated and determined that this recall impacted a limited amount of the Food Service and Ingredients products. On February 5, out of an abundance of caution, Sargento voluntarily recalled the products that were supplied by Rizo-Lopez Foods Inc. and products that were packaged on the same lines. This recall did not impact Sargento-branded products.”

Sargento terminated its contract with Rizo-López and notified its impacted customers, the spokesperson added.

Founded in 1953, the family-owned cheese maker operates five locations in Wisconsin, employing more than 2,500 people and tallying $1.8 billion in net annual sales. 

The company’s recall of already recalled cheese is part of an ongoing saga that has the FDA investigating an outbreak of listeria infections tied to cheese made by Modesto, Calif.-based Rizo-López. The probe has resulted in a greatly expanded recall of cheese and other dairy products to include items like vending machine sandwiches, ready-to-eat enchiladas, snacks, dips, dressings, wraps, salad and taco kits. 

At least 26 people in 11 states have been stricken in the ongoing listeria outbreak, with 23 hospitalized. The latest illness occurred in December, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One person died in California in 2017, and another fatality occurred in Texas in 2020, the CDC said in its latest update on Feb. 13, 2024. 

The hard-to-swallow news for cheese eaters follows an earlier story this week related to listeria, the bacteria behind listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating contaminated food.

An listeria outbreak that killed two people nearly a decade ago on Tuesday had a former cheese maker in Walton, New York, pleading to misdemeanor charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Johannes Vulto and his now defunct company, Vulto Creamery, were found to be behind the sole multistate outbreak of listeria in 2017, federal officials said. 

An estimated 1,600 Americans get listeriosis each year and about 260 die, according to the CDC.

Editor’s note: The initial version of this story said that the Sargento recall applied to products solid in retail stores. In fact, no Sargento products for consumers are being recalled due to listeria risks. Instead, the company is recalling shredded cheese sold to some food service customers.

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