The cheese supply chain has been melting down amid a massive recall of dairy delicacies from colby to Gouda.
There have been more than a dozen recalls related to cheese in the past month due to contamination from listeria, and they continue rolling out. The recalls included small brands to encompass Sargento-brand slices and, as of Thursday, cheeses sold at some Whole Foods stores.
Cheese contaminated with listeria — sold in Whole Foods and other stores — has sickened several people and killed two. Health officials suspect that the outbreak likely originated at Vulto Creamery in New York.
But most of the recalls can be traced back to one Amish dairy in northern Indiana. The recalled cheeses were produced at Deutsch Käse Haus, a cheese shop and dairy facility in Middlebury, Ind., responsible for processing 400,000 pounds of milk a day. The facility mainly makes colby cheese, with lesser production of colby jack, Monterey Jack, cheddar, pepper jack, and other varieties.
There haven’t been any reports of illness or death tied to the contaminated cheese from that manufacturer. Instead, the investigation got underway after agriculture officials in Tennessee randomly tested Amish Classic brand cheese at grocery stores in late January and turned up evidence of listeria.
Listeria is a common source of food poisoning that often gets into food supply via soil and water. The infection can cause fever, headache, and nausea in healthy people. In children, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems, the infection can be serious and, in some cases, fatal. Listeria infection can also lead to stillbirth or miscarriage among pregnant women.
First, there was a recall of Amish Classic and Meijer brand cheeses. Then, Sargento recalled seven types of sliced and shredded cheeses also made by the Indiana store. Dairy smorgasbords like the Ultimate Amish Sampler Box soon followed.
Then came the stuffed mushrooms, the fruit and cheese snack packs, and the “pre-wrapped Ham Sub on Artisan White Baguette.”
Some of the contaminated products are unidentifiable, sliced off of big blocks at the deli counter and “chunked with no bar code,” as the FDA gracefully puts it.
It’s not the first time Deutsch Käse Haus has run into trouble with the FDA. In 2009, agency officials cited the producer for improper maintenance and sanitation in the facility. FDA representatives swabbed 25 different spots in the facility and found three that tested positive for listeria.
“Listeria monocytogenes within your manufacturing facility presents an increased risk of pathogenic contamination to your food production operations and sanitation,” the FDA warned.
The plant was then owned by Guggisberg Cheese Inc., which sold Deutsch Käse Haus in November 2016 to the Michigan Milk Producers Association. The FDA later determined the facility had fixed the concerns laid out in the 2009 letter.
The current investigation is still ongoing, and the manufacturer has stopped producing cheese for now.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we halted production,”said Mark Hubbard, a spokesman for Deutsch Käse Haus. “We are verifying the believed source before resuming production, which we anticipate will be very soon.”
Curious about the safety of your cheese collection? Check out the FDA’s full list of recalls and sign up for alerts of new recalls here. Vigilance is always a Gouda idea.
This story was updated with further information about the recalls.