Lately, cheese has usurped the role traditionally played by fresh produce and ground beef as public enemy number 1 in the food safety battle. Maybe the level of contamination in both raw and pasteurized milk-based cheeses hasn’t changed at all recently over historic levels, and the only difference is the high-profile nature of some of the recent cheese contamination events. And maybe the high-profile nature of these events is mostly a problem of the cheese-makers’ own creation (the level of distrust and suspicion of the government’s actions and motives has been more than a little ridiculous). (Exhibit 1, see Help Wanted: public relations position for raw dairies) (Exhibit 2 might be William Neuman’s article yesterday in the New York Times on Estrella Family Creamery’s listeria problem, entitled Small Cheesemaker Defies FDA Over Recall)
The Bravo Farms cheese E. coli outbreak certainly came at a bad time for the cheese industry. This year alone:
- Morningland Dairy in Missouri has had all of its products embargoed
- Estrella Family Creamery has had all of its products embargoed
- Queso Mi Pueblito’s operation was recently shuttered for good for its inability to control its listeria problem
- In February in Washington State, a listeria outbreak linked to pasteurized milk-based Queso Fresco cheese sickened 5
- On November 17, Del Bueno in Washington recalled various cheeses due to listeria contamination
- On the heels of the Bravo Farms cheese E. coli outbreak, DPI Specialty Foods recalled mauri gorgonzola cheese due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination
- In July, August and September, in separate recalls, Azteca Lind recalled several kinds of cheese due to listeria contamination
- In August, Queseria Chipilo recalled several kinds of cheese due to listeria contamination
- In May,Mt. Vikos brand Manouri cheese was recalled due to listeria contamination
- Twice In April, Del Bueno issued cheese recalls due to listeria contamination
- In February, Queseria Bendita recalled cheese due to listeria contamination
- And in January, HP Foods recalled Heluva Good cheese products due to listeria contamination
And this list actually goes easy on cheese producers, as it doesn’t mention the fact that several of the companies in the list had multiple recalls that are not individually listed.
Maybe the problem is that many of these producers are small-scale family farms whose margins probably don’t allow them to put much money into expensive consultation with safety and production experts to help them learn how to better control pathogens in their production environments. Nevertheless, legally even small-scale producers are held to the same standards as the Cargills and Tysons of the world when their products injure and kill people. So the lawsuits will not stop. All the more reason for much more research into how to stop the seemingly endless stream of cheese recalls.