Case Count: Connecticut (1), Florida (1), New York (5) and Vermont (1)

CDC collaborated with public health and regulatory officials in several states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis). Listeria causes a serious, life-threatening illness.

Listeria specimens from ill people were collected from September 1, 2016 to March 13, 2017. Ill people ranged in age from less than one year to 89 years, with a median age of 52 years. Five of eight ill people were female. All eight (100%) ill people were hospitalized, including two people from Connecticut and Vermont who died. One of the illnesses was reported in a newborn.

Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated that soft raw milk cheese made by Vulto Creamery of Walton, New York, was the likely source of this outbreak.

State and local health departments interviewed ill people or their family members about the foods they ate or other exposures in the month before their illness started. Based on those interviews, eight (100%) of eight people ate a soft cheese. The ill resident of Florida reported traveling to New York state and eating soft cheese there before becoming ill. Available information indicated that cheese made by Vulto Creamery was for sale at stores where at least seven of the ill people bought cheese before getting sick.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health collected leftover cheeses from the home of the deceased person in Connecticut. The outbreak strain of Listeria was identified in a leftover cheese that the family identified as Ouleout cheese from Vulto Creamery.

The New York Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services collected three intact wheels of Ouleout cheese from Vulto Creamery. The outbreak strain of Listeria was identified in samples taken from the three wheels of cheese. On March 7, 2017, Vulto Creamery recalled all lots of Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie, and Willowemoc soft wash-rind raw milk cheeses. On March 10, the company expanded the recall to include four other cheeses: Andes, Blue Blais, Hamden, and Walton Umber. The raw milk cheeses were distributed nationwide, with most sold in stores in the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states; California; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; and Washington, D.C.

Vulto Creamery’s FDA 483 Inspection Report

OBSERVATION 1

Failure to manufacture and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.

Specifically:

  • A finished product sample of your firm’s Ouleout soft raw milk cheese product bearing lot #617 was analyzed by an FDA laboratory and found to be positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a foodbome pathogen.
  • A finished product sample of your firm’s Ouleout soft raw milk cheese product bearing lot #623, collected by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets in your facility on 2/28/2017 during the FDA inspection, was found to be positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a foodbome pathogen.

OBSERVATION 2

Failure to perform microbial testing where necessary to identify sanitation failures and possible food contamination.

Specifically, a review of your environmental sampling test records noted the following:

  • You have conducted environmental sampling during 20 months from 7/28/2014 through 2/19/2017. Your records show 54 out of 198 results positive for Listeria spp. taken from various locations throughout your manufacturing facility, which include, but are not limited to: floor drains in the manufacturing room, wash room and cheese aging room; outside of brine tanks in the walk-in cooler; door handles to the cheese aging room, walk-in cooler and entry door; various areas of the floor in the cheese aging room; bottom of a squeegee in the cheese aging room; employee aprons; and wooden cheese rack dollies in the cheese aging room.  The most recent positive finding being a swab taken from the floor in the manufacturing room on 2/19/2017. You have not conducted an investigation to provide identification of the Listeria spp. to Genus and species and you have also failed to identify its source or point of entry/harborage in your facility.
  • A total of 10 of the 54 positive results were found on food contact surfaces between 10/30/2014 and 4/28/2015. You did not conduct microbial testing of finished products to confi1m that your finished products were not contaminated with the organism found by your environmental testing program. According to your sample records, the food contact surface locations were as follows:

o Wooden cheese aging board in cheese aging room; positive result from 10/30/2014.

o The cheese brush used to brush Ouleout and Miranda soft cheeses and two wooden

cheese aging boards in cheese aging room; positive results from 12/3/2014.

o The cheese brush used to brush Ouleout and Miranda soft cheeses and two wooden cheese aging boards in cheese aging room; positive results from 116/2015.

o Two cheese brushes used to brush the Andes and the Walton Umber hard cheeses;

positive results from 2/3/2015.

o Two cheese brushes used to brush the Andes and the Walton Umber hard cheeses;

positive results from 3/22/2015.

o A cheese brush (not specified to product); positive result from 4/28/2015.

  • You did not continue sampling food contact surfaces after 4/28/2015 to determine if Listeria spp. was still present on these surfaces representing a continued contamination risk to your cheese products.
  • Upon finding a Listeria spp. positive result on a surface, you re-cleaned and re-sanitized the area, but did not re-swab that location until a month or more later, after additional lots of cheese had been produced, to determine if your cleaning and sanitizing was effective and to dete1mine if the Listeria spp. was still present.

OBSERVATION 3

The procedure used for cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and utensils has not been shown to provide adequate cleaning and sanitizing treatment.

Specifically, review of your environmental sampling results across 20 months from 7/28/2014 through 2/19/2017 showed positive results for Listeria species on several food contact and non-food contact surfaces in your facility.  Per your documented corrective actions, upon getting a positive result you re- cleaned and re-sanitized the affected areas using your routine cleaning and sanitizing operations. However, when you re-sampled these locations a month or more later and tests showed repeated positive results, you did not investigate the use of a more effective method of cleaning and sanitizing.

OBSERVATION 4

Failure to store cleaned and sanitized portable equipment in a location and manner which protects food- contact surfaces from contamination.

Specifically, you were storing wood boards that have been cleaned and sanitized in your facility attic, where exposed insulation and other debris were observed.   Your ready-to-eat Hamden, Blais Blue, Andes and Walton Umber cheese products sit directly on these boards during the aging process.

Additionally, you stated that the attic gets ve1y hot during the summer months, and that it can take approximately _________ for the wood boards to completely dry.

OBSERVATION 5

Failure to take necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food and food contact surfaces with Microorganisms and foreign substances.

Specifically, on 3/1/2017 the following was observed during the manufacturing of your Walton Umber hard cheese product:

  • You and your employee were observed placing your bare hands and arms, up to your elbows, directly into the cheese making vat in order to manually break up recently formed cheese curds. Although you washed your hands, neither of you washed your lower or upper arms. Additionally, your employee was observed to have multiple cuts and abrasions on his rums, which came in direct contact with cheese curds and whey.
  • A stainless-steel ladle, used to scoop milk for pH analysis, had buildup of a mold-like substance on its inner surface. You stated you use this same ladle in the same manner during the manufacturing of all cheese products.

OBSERVATION 6

The design and materials of equipment does not allow proper cleaning and maintenance.

Specifically, a large majority of the wooden boards used for aging in the cheese aging room are of a design that does not allow them to be appropriately cleaned and sanitized.  The boards, which you stated were made from __________ have uneven surfaces, were rough cut, and have knots, frays, and splinters, which allows for the collection of moisture and debris, representing a potential harborage area for filth and microorganisms. These wooden boards come in direct contact with your aging Hamden, Blais Blue, Walton Umber and Andes ready-to-eat cheese products.

OBSERVATION 7

The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent drip and condensate from contaminating food and food-contact surfaces.

Specifically, on 3/1/2017, condensation was noted dripping from the horizontal stainless steel bar on the cheese press directly onto the food contact surface of the draining table below.  This table is used to allow molded cheese products to drain off whey.  Additionally, rust-like particles were noted in the condensation puddle on the table.

OBSERVATION 8

Employees did not sanitize hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility after each absence from the work station and at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated.

Specifically, during the inspection on 3/1/2017, it was observed that you and your employee did not sanitize your hands or arms prior to using them to stir and break up the in-process Walton Umber cheese curds.

OBSERVATION 9

Failure to maintain physical facilities in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated. Specifically, the following was observed throughout the inspection:

  • Heavy buildup of apparent rust-like substance on the white painted ve1tical supp01t bars that hold the cheese presses in place. These bars are located directly over the draining table closest to the window in the manufacturing room; flakes of this rust-like substance were observed on the top surface of the drain table where molds of cheese are set to drain.
  • Heavy buildup of apparent rust-like substance on painted white metal storage shelf in wash room. This shelf is used to store cheese molds and other equipment and utensils.
  • A heavy buildup of apparent black and green rust-like substance was noted on the cement walls in the manufacturing room and wash room. Several cleaning brushes, storage racks and cheese molds were noted to come in direct contact with these walls.  Additionally, these walls were moist from condensation.
  • Heavy buildup of rust-like and black rust-like substance on stainless steel storage shelf in walk-in cooler. This shelf was being used to hold boxes of wrapped finished cheese products.
  • A large piece of ceiling tile was missing in the cheese aging room. Uncovered, ready-to-eat cheese was being stored directly below this area.
  • The exhaust fan on the ceiling in the manufacturing room has a buildup of dirt-like and rust-like substances. This fan is directly above a stainless-steel draining table where molded cheeses are placed to drain whey.

OBSERVTION 10

Failure to operate fans and other air-blowing equipment in a manner that minimizes the potential for contaminating food and food-contact surfaces.

Specifically, during the inspection, the following was observed:

  • On 3/2/2017, a fan in the attic that was in operation to my cleaned and sanitized wood boards regularly used for cheese aging was noted to have dirt and dust debris buildup on the spinning arms and face of the fan. These wood boards come in direct contact with Hamden, Blais Blue, Walton Umber and Andes ready-to-eat cheese products during the aging process in the cheese aging room.
  • On 2/28/2017, a fan in the manufacturing room was noted to have a ve1y heavy buildup of unknown debris on the spinning arms and face of the fan. You stated your firm uses this fan to help by the floor in the manufacturing room after cleaning.

OBSERVATION 11

Lack of an automatic temperature alarm system for each freezer and cold storage compartment used to store food capable of supporting the growth of microorganisms

Specifically, your firms cheese aging room and walk-in cooler lack an automatic temperature alarm system that would provide indication that a significant temperature change occurred. Your finished cheese products are stored in the cheese aging room.

Additionally, you stated that you do not calibrate and never have calibrated the thermometers located in the cheese aging room and walk-in cooler.

Failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, or other physical facilities in a sanitary condition. Specifically, throughout the inspection the following was observed:

  • The concrete floors in the manufacturing room and cheese aging room were noted to be cracked and pitted; an accumulation of moisture was noted to be stuck in the cracks and pits of the floor.
  • A buildup of apparent black rust-like substance was noted on the window sill in the wash room.
  • There is an uneven layer of concrete mortar around the _________ in the manufacturing room. There are also cracks where the mortar meets the       .
  • The door to the manufacturing room does not have a door handle, but instead has plastic packing tape covering part of the hole.
  • The walk-in cooler door does not have a door handle, but instead has a duty cloth rag plugging up the hole.
  • A heavy buildup of rust-like debris was noted on the lower part of the manufacturing room door.
  • There was buildup of a black rust-like substance on the wall between the walk-in cooler and cheese aging room.
  • A hole was noted at the bottom of the wall near· the foot bath in the packaging room.
  • A black rust-like substance was observed on the ceiling in the packaging room, near· the wash room entrance.

OBSERVATION 13

Effective measures are not being taken to exclude pests from the processing areas and protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests.

Specifically, during the inspection on 2/28/2017, a long piece of sticky fly tape, heavily populated with dead insects, observed hanging directly over exposed, uncovered ready-to-eat cheese products in your cheese aging room was pointed out to you.  This fly tape was observed hanging in the cheese aging room in the same condition on 3/1/2017 and 3/7/2017.

OBSERVATION 14

Plumbing constitutes a source of contamination to equipment and utensils. Specifically, during the inspection the following was observed:

  • A hose with a nozzle on the end was directly connected to the potable water supply in the manufacturing room without a proper backflow prevention device installed. This hose is used during cleaning operations.
  • A hose with a nozzle on the end was directly connected to the potable water supply in the wash room without a proper backflow prevention device installed. This hose is used during cleaning operations.
  • The drain pipe from the 3-basin sink in the manufacturing room is approximately 2.5 inches wide. The air gap between the drain pipe and the waste funnel is only 1.5 inches, which does not provide an adequate air gap between your sink drain and waste pipe.
  • The wash room 3-basin sink does not have an air gap installed between the sink drain pipe and the waste pipe.

OBSERVATION 15

You did not submit a reportable food rep01t to FDA within 24 hours after you determined that a food was a reportable food.

Specifically, you were notified via telephone on 3/3/2017 that your firm’s Ouleout soft raw milk cheese product bearing lot #617 was found to be positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a foodbome pathogen, and that you would need to file a reportable food reported to the FDA within 24 hours.  At this present time, you still have not filed a reportable food report with the FDA.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria outbreaks. The Listeria lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients.  Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation.  Our Listeria lawyers have litigated Listeria cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, cheese, celery and milk.

If you or a family member became ill with a Listeria infection after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Listeria attorneys for a free case evaluation.

 

Vulto Creamery Cheese Listeria Lawsuit

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