Header graphic for print
Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Minnesota Health officials investigate Salmonella illnesses linked to unpasteurized cheese product

Twelve people sickened after eating queso fresco made in a private home

Twelve people have become ill with salmonellosis linked to eating a raw Mexican-style cheese, queso fresco, and state health officials are warning consumers about the risks of consuming unpasteurized dairy products.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the City of Minneapolis are investigating the outbreak and the source of the raw milk used to make the cheese.

MDH has confirmed 11 cases of infection with the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium. Eight were hospitalized. Additional illnesses have been reported in family members of the cases, including two hospitalizations. All have recovered. Many cases reported eating unpasteurized queso fresco purchased or received from an individual who made the product in a private home. Investigators have determined that the individual made home deliveries and also may have sold the product on a street corner near the East Lake Street area of Minneapolis.

Anyone who may have purchased or received this product recently should not eat it but should throw it away.

Health officials said consuming raw dairy products can be dangerous. Raw milk has been found to contain numerous pathogens that can cause serious illness, including Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Yersinia. Pasteurization has been used for almost a century as a way to reduce diseases that were commonly caused by raw milk.

Minnesota law allows consumers to purchase raw milk directly from the farm for their own consumption, but it may not be distributed or sold off the farm. Additionally, cheese production facilities need to follow proper food safety laws and regulations, including licensure.

“While our immediate concern is that there might be additional illnesses associated with consumption of this particular product, we also want to remind people of the inherent risk of consuming any raw dairy product,” said Dr. Carlota Medus, foodborne illness epidemiologist with MDH. “We encourage people to think carefully about those risks before consuming raw dairy products from any source and know that the risks are especially high for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.”

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, especially in high risk groups. Healthy people infected with Salmonella often experience diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Symptoms often begin 12-72 hours after consumption of contaminated food but can begin up to a week or more later. Anyone who believes they may have become ill with Salmonella should contact their health care provider.