Federal health officials today announced that they and state partners are investigating a multiyear, multistate Listeria monocytogenes outbreak tied to a California's company's cotija and queso fresco cheeses.
In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that 26 illnesses have been reported from 11 states, with onset dates as far back as June 2015 and extending through December 2023. Of patients with available information, 23 were hospitalized, and 2 deaths were reported—one from California and the other from Texas.
The CDC said it investigated the outbreak in 2017 and 2021, which pointed to the types of cheeses, but there weren't enough details to identify a specific brand. Officials reopened the investigation in January following a report of an illness in December, and routine sampling by the Hawaii Department of Health turned up a match in cheese samples from Rizo-Lopez Foods and identified the outbreak strain.
Interviews with 22 sick patients found that 16 remembered eating queso fresco, cotijo, or similar cheeses, and of those who remembered specific brands, three said they had consumed Don Francisco brand cheese, which is one of the brands made by at Modesto, California-based Rizo-Lopez Foods. Also, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of Rizo-Lopez Foods identified the outbreak strain on a container where cheeses were kept.
On January 11, the company recalled its aged cotija cheese following Hawaii's identification of a positive sample. Today, the company recalled all cheese and other dairy products made at its facility. Products—sold under 13 brand names—were distributed nationally and were available at deli counters. It urged consumers to check their refrigerators and freezers for the products and to dispose of them.