CDC links decades-long Listeria outbreak to Rizo-López Foods cheese. Your favorite cheese may be impacted.

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published February 9, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • The CDC has linked a decades-long Listeria outbreak to cheeses produced by Rizo-López Foods.

  • The company has voluntarily recalled impacted products, and the CDC says not to eat, sell, or serve recalled items.

  • Listeria outbreaks can pose significant risks to everyone, especially pregnant people.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked a decades-long Listeria outbreak to cheese from Rizo-López Foods. The CDC previously investigated this outbreak in 2017 and 2021 and noted that cheese, particularly queso fresco, as a potential source. At the time, the agency was unable to identify which brand of cheese was the culprit. The agency reopened investigations this January due to reports of new Listeria illnesses, pinpointing Rizo-López Foods.

What to know about the current outbreak

As of the CDC’s announcement, 26 people have been infected with this strain of Listeria, Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 26 infections, 23 hospitalizations and two deaths have been reported. The agency notes that the true impact is likely larger than reported. Many people may be infected with Listeria and recover without medical attention or be infected but not be tested. It can also take time for symptoms to appear, tests to be administered, and results to be received, leading to delays in reporting known cases. According to the CDC, it can take about 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a person’s sickness is part of an outbreak.

Rizo-López recalled all of its cheese and dairy products on February 6, 2024, and has temporarily halted the sale and production of these products while the investigation continues. The CDC tells people not to eat, sell, or serve any of the recalled products. 

Health impact of listeria 

Listeria outbreaks can range in severity. They can pose particular harms to pregnant people, increasing risks for complications like miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery, and infections in newborns. 

Trista Best, RD, a registered dietitian at Balance Once Supplements, encourages pregnant women to take precautions to avoid “high-risk foods” for Listeria, such as “unpasteurized dairy products, deli meats, hot dogs, and certain types of cheese.”

“Opt for pasteurized dairy products and thoroughly cooked meats instead,” Best suggests. “It's crucial to practice proper food safety measures, including washing hands and surfaces, keeping raw and cooked foods separate, and heating leftovers to a safe temperature.”

Paying attention to storage requirements and expiration dates is also important, she adds. 

Doctors can help in detecting and treating listeria outbreaks 

Knowing the signs of Listeria outbreaks and testing for listeriosis can be crucial to reducing risks of severe outcomes, says Mitzi Baum MSc, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP), a national public health nonprofit advocating for effective food safety policies. Listeria outbreaks are particularly concerning for pregnant people, but they are not the only ones at risk, she adds.

“Everyone is susceptible to foodborne illnesses, and not all of them will have the same outcome,” Baum says. 

Baum stresses the need for medical professionals to listen to patients and not ignore symptoms related to foodborne illnesses. Stop Foodborne Illness works with many patients with similar stories of being dismissed by doctors, she says.

“They told the medical practitioner that there was something seriously wrong but they were sent home, only to be rushed to the emergency room less than 24 hours later with life-threatening infections,” Baum adds. “Medical professionals must understand the risks to their patients of not diagnosing their illnesses in a timely manner.”

Seeking compensation for damages from a foodborne illness

Some people impacted by Listeria may work with a lawyer to try to recover compensation for their damages. These can include injuries, medical expenses, lost income, and other damages experienced as a result of the outbreak, says Jonathan Rosenfeld, JD, Founder of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers. If a person chooses to seek legal help for a foodborne illness, the first step is typically to schedule a consultation, Rosenfeld adds.

“During this consultation, we gather information about the individual's situation, including details about their illness, any medical treatment they've received, and the potential source of contamination,” says Rosenfeld. “We also discuss their rights and options for seeking compensation for their injuries and related expenses.” He adds that they will work with clients to investigate the responsible parties, such as food producers, and collect evidence, including medical records.

“Once we have a clear understanding of the case, we develop a strategy for pursuing compensation on behalf of the client. This may involve negotiating with insurance companies or other parties involved in the outbreak or filing a lawsuit if necessary to protect our client's rights,” says Rosenfeld.

While it is fortunate that the CDC identified the source of this outbreak, the discovery may be too late for people already impacted.

“The timeframe is concerning, because, over the years, there were likely more Listeria infections associated with the products from this manufacturer that were never reported or linked,” Baum says.

She adds that there is a need for more research into foodborne illness sources and disease prevention, even when there are not large outbreaks circulating in the news.

What this means for you

The CDC linked a decades-old listeria outbreak to cheese from Rizo-López Foods. The impacted foods have since been recalled and the CDC tells people not to eat, sell, or seve these items.

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