In a press release issued July 7, 2009, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had filed a complaint seeking an injunction against Peregrina Cheese, Inc, of Brooklyn, NY, and two of its officers. If granted by the Court, the injunction would temporarily stop the company from manufacturing and distributing food.

According to the complaint, which was filed on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company has a history of producing cheese contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne pathogen. A search of the FDA website revealed that FDA has cited insanitary conditions at the Peregrina Cheese factory several times over the last five years, and that Peregrina Cheese has recalled cheese products for Listeria contamination in the past. 

Listeria is the common name for the pathogenic or disease-causing bacterium known as Listeria monocytogenes. It is a foodborne illness that when ingested causes an infection known as listeriosis. Approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths are attributed to listeriosis in the United States annually.

In the DOJ press release, FDA acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, Michael Chappell, stated:

This company has consistently failed to make corrections to improve the insanitary conditions under which it processes cheese products, despite frequent warnings to do so. The FDA will not tolerate food companies that fail to provide adequate safeguards.

According to the complaint, FDA and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) inspections have revealed violations of current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements for foods. Inspectors have noted such food safety violations as standing water in food processing equipment and a dead rodent inside the plant. NYSDAM has also assessed fines against the company.

More information about Listeria monocytogenes:

It is believed that the ingestion of fewer than 1,000 Listeria bacteria can cause human illness. A person with listeriosis usually experiences fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea anywhere from three to seventy days after ingesting Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, obtundation, or convulsions can occur. With brain involvement, listeriosis may mimic a stroke.

For unknown reasons, in immune-deficient hosts Listeria invades and grows best in the central nervous system, causing meningitis and/or encephalitis (brain infection). In pregnant women, the fetus is most heavily infected, leading to spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, or sepsis in infancy.

Pregnant women naturally have a depressed cell-mediated immune system; many think that this occurs so that the mother’s immune system will not reject the fetus. In addition, the systems of fetuses and newborns are very immature; they are extremely susceptible to intracellular pathogens. Other adults, especially transplant recipients and lymphoma patients, are given necessary therapies with the specific intent of depressing immune T-cells, and these individuals become especially susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes as well.