Cheese manufacturer Roos Foods, Inc. has been shut down by the Food and Drug Administration after an investigation linked a multistate listeria outbreak to the processor of Hispanic-style cheeses.
Roos Foods of Kenton, Del., makes cheeses under brand names including Santa Rosa de Lima, Amigo, Mexicana, Suyapa, La Chapina, and La Purísima Crema Nica.
In February health officials announced the company was recalling some varieties of cheeses after they were linked to eight illnesses in newborns and pregnant women, including seven in Maryland and one death in California. All illnesses were diagnosed between Aug. 1, 2014 and Nov. 27, 2013, and all patients were of Hispanic descent.
The recall was expanded multiple times. A full list of cheeses can be found on the FDA's website.
Health officials investigated the facility from Feb. 18 to March 4, and found Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in samples of cheese matched those isolated in patients sickened from the outbreak through whole-genome sequencing. On March 11, the FDA decided to suspend the food facility registration of Roos Foods in response to the outbreak and after finding unsanitary conditions at the facility.
Investigators found water leaking so badly through the roof that it rained down onto cheese processing equipment and storage tanks, standing water in proximity to cheese vats and in storage room, food residues found on equipment after it had been cleaned, openings to milk storage tanks not capped to prevent contaminants, and deteriorated equipment.
The suspension forbids Roos Foods from distributing any food products. It will be lifted once the FDA determines food from the facility "no longer has a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans."
Roos Food's ships to California, Texas, New York, Boston, Atlanta, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, according to the company's website.
Listeria bacteria causes an infection -- listerosis -- that can cause fever after eating any of the Roos Foods cheeses listed in the recalls. It can be deadly for people in high-risk groups, including pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
Consumers are urged not to eat any of the recalled cheese products and throw any remaining cheese away. Listeria bacteria can grow at room temperatures, so the longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the fridge, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow. People are also urged to clean thoroughly their refrigerator and any utensils used to prepare the cheese with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water.
This is the second time the FDA has suspended operations at a food manufacturer over a disease outbreak since the agency got enforcement authority in a 2011 food safety law.
In November 2012, the FDA halted operations at organic peanut butter processor Sunland Inc. in Portales, New Mexico following a nationwide salmonella outbreak after 41 people in 20 states, most of them children, were sickened by peanut butter sold by Trader Joe's grocery chain.
The CDC has more information on the Roos Foods' outbreak.