Published On: Wed, Feb 7th, 2024

Listeria Outbreak Linked to Cotija and Other Cheeses, Yogurt, and Sour Cream

Nearly 60 dairy products from Rizo-López Foods have been recalled


By Lisa L. Gill

More than two dozen people have been sickened in an outbreak of listeria monocytogenes linked to queso fresco, cotija, Oaxaca, and other styles of cheese, as well as yogurt and crema. They were produced by Rizo-López Foods. 

The company recalled the products—58 in all—which were sold under several brand names nationwide. 

The outbreak is unusual in the sense that people have become ill off and on over the past 10 years from the same strain of listeria. In total, 26 people were sickened and two died. The latest illnesses were reported in January. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, investigators believed that Hispanic-style cheeses were the source of the bacteria, but didn’t have the evidence until now to name a specific product. Last month the Hawaii Department of Health identified listeria in Rizo Bros Aged Cotija. At that time, the company recalled a single batch of the product. But after listeria illnesses from December 2023 were later linked to the cotija cheese along with other products from Rizo-López Foods, the Food and Drug Administration did an on-site inspection and found the same strain of listeria responsible for the outbreak on a container where cheese is stored before packaging. The FDA and the CDC continue to investigate.

Listeria is especially dangerous for infants, older and pregnant people, and those with a compromised immune system because they’re at risk for serious infection.

Darren Williams, a spokesperson for Rizo-López Foods, says the company is “working diligently to find the source of the problem and take corrective actions to prevent it from happening again. Our heartfelt condolences go to the people and families who were affected by this outbreak.”

What’s Been Recalled?

The brand names of the products are Campesino, Casa Cardenas, Don Francisco, Dos Ranchitos, El Huache, Food City, La Ordena, Rio Grande, Rizo Bros, San Carlos, Santa Maria, Tio Francisco, and 365 Whole Foods Market. Find a full list on the FDA website.

The FDA says products were sold at deli counters in stores including Cardenas Market, El Rancho, El Super, Food City, La Michoacana, Northgate Gonzalez, Numero Uno Markets, Superior Groceries, and Vallarta.

If you have recalled products in your refrigerator or freezer, Williams says to call the company’s customer service number at 833-296-2233 to request a refund.

The Risk of Listeria

Although it’s uncommon to have a matching strain of bacteria that spans many years, as is the case with this recall, James E. Rogers, PhD, director of food safety testing and acting director of product testing at CR, says that listeria is a hearty pathogen and that once it gets into a facility, “it’s really tough to get rid of it.”

An FDA spokesperson told CR that listeria can easily spread from contaminated equipment or surfaces to food, and if the source of contamination is not identified, the and make people sick. 

For most people with listeriosis, the infection caused by listeria, although unpleasant, is likely to resolve on its own. The symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, can start as soon as just a few hours after consuming contaminated food or up to two weeks later.

But for 1 in 20 people, the infection can become more serious and turn into an invasive illness with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and a stiff neck, according to the CDC. Other symptoms can include confusion, loss of balance, and seizures. The CDC estimates that 1,600 people get listeriosis each year and about 260 die.

Editor’s Note: This article, originally published Feb. 7, 2024, has been updated to correct an error. We said that the investigators had previously identified Rizo-López foods as the source of the bacteria that caused the outbreak. Rather, the investigators believed Hispanic-style cheeses in general were the source, and only now was a brand identified. Additionally, the article also now includes comment from the FDA.

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