Yesterday, a Washington state company became the latest to recall its Ricotta Salata Frescolina Brand cheese for potential Listeria contamination. Peterson Company distributed the potentially contaminated cheese to distributors, retailers and restaurants in Washington and Oregon after receiving it from cheese importer Forever Cheese of Long Island City, NY, which issued a recall for its Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand cheese on September 10, 2012.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other public health agencies have traced at least 14 cases of listeriosis to the consumption of contaminated Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand cheese—a salty, white cheese made from pasteurized sheep’s milk—which has been on the market since June 20, 2012. All 14 people who contracted Listeria infections were hospitalized, and 3 died as a result of their listeriosis. On September 13, Whole Foods announced that it was recalling ricotta salata sold at stores due to potential Listeria contamination.

“We focus so much attention on preventing foodborne illness by pasteurizing milk and cheeses. This is a good reminder that just post-pasteurization contamination is as much a risk to consumers as contamination prior to pasteurization,” said food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler. “Something went wrong in processing this cheese—be it contaminated equipment or improper handling—and lives have been lost as a result.”

Marler continued, “Importers need to certify that the products they’re selling are safe for human consumption. We tell pregnant women, the elderly, and immunocompromised persons to consume only pasteurized dairy products. They should be able to eat these products without fear of miscarriage or death.”

Listeria infection can cause the sudden onset of fever, chills, severe headache, vomiting and other influenza-type symptoms. In severe cases, Listeria infection is often characterized by septic shock, meningitis and encephalitis.

According to the Outbreak Database, at least 15 documented Listeria outbreaks have been traced to contaminated cheese in the U.S. and Canada since 2000. Those outbreaks resulted in 132 Listeria cases, 59 hospitalizations and 13 deaths. A 1985 Listeria outbreak resulted in 142 illnesses, with 28 deaths.

BACKGROUND: Bill Marler and his law firm, Marler Clark, have represented thousands of victims of foodborne illness since the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak. The lawyers at Marler Clark have brought lawsuits on behalf of victims of Listeria outbreaks traced to cheese, milk, cantaloupes, and other foods.