A widespread outbreak of listeria infection, traced back to dairy products from Rizo-López Foods, has resulted in two fatalities and the hospitalization of 23 individuals. The outbreak spans a decade and has affected multiple states. Listeria, a serious foodborne pathogen, poses significant risks, especially to pregnant women and vulnerable populations. Prompt action is crucial to mitigate the spread of infection and ensure public safety.
The recent alert issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights a distressing reality—a prolonged outbreak of listeria illness linked to dairy products. Originating from Rizo-López Foods, these contaminated products have led to tragic consequences, including fatalities and numerous hospitalizations. With cases spanning over a decade and impacting various states, the urgency to address this public health threat is paramount.
The implicated company, Rizo-López Foods, has been identified as the distributor of the contaminated dairy items, including cheeses, yogurts, and various other dairy products. This nationwide recall, initiated on February 5th, encompasses all products marketed by Rizo-López Foods. The recall extends to an array of brands, such as Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, and Rio Grande, among others.
Highlighted in the CDC’s alert is the pivotal role of queso fresco and cotija cheese in the transmission of the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium, which has been responsible for the outbreak. The CDC’s investigation has underscored the connection between these dairy products and the illnesses reported during this outbreak.
This current outbreak represents a distressing continuation of a decade-long issue. Prior investigations in 2017 and 2021 failed to pinpoint a specific brand responsible for the outbreak. However, a breakthrough occurred when a sample of Rizo Bros Aged Cotija tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes during routine sampling in January 2024. Subsequent genome sequencing confirmed the presence of the same strain responsible for previous illnesses.
The geographical spread of this outbreak is concerning, with cases reported in 11 states across the country. California has been particularly hard-hit, reporting eight cases, while other affected states include Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
Listeria poses a significant threat as the third leading cause of foodborne illnesses in the United States. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, being ten times more likely to contract a Listeria infection. Alarmingly, infection during pregnancy can result in fetal loss in approximately 20% of cases and newborn death in 3% of cases. Other high-risk groups include individuals aged 65 and older and those with weakened immune systems. Hospitalization is necessary in approximately 87% of non-pregnancy-associated cases, with a mortality rate of approximately 1 in 6 patients.
Recognizing the symptoms of listeria infection is crucial. Common indicators include fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Symptoms typically manifest within two weeks of consuming contaminated food but can appear as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks afterward.
In response to this outbreak, the CDC advises consumers to thoroughly clean their refrigerators, containers, and any surfaces that may have come into contact with the recalled products. Listeria can survive and proliferate in refrigerated environments, posing a risk of cross-contamination with other foods and surfaces.