Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Prompts Cheese Recall

A multistate outbreak of listeriosis has led to the recall of several cheese products by a Wisconsin manufacturer. At least five people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes were hospitalized; the illness resulted in one death and a miscarriage by a pregnant woman, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Following an investigation by the CDC and other public health investigators, on July 3 Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company, of Waterloo, voluntarily recalled its Les Frères, Petit Frère, and Petit Frère with Truffles cheeses with make dates of July 1, 2013 or earlier due to possible contamination, according to a recall notice on the company’s website. The products had been distributed nationwide through retail and foodservice outlets and by mail-order, according to the company.

Crave Brothers is “cooperating with the regulatory agencies’ ongoing investigation of the cause of the potential health risks,” says George Crave, president of the company, in the recall notice.

Laboratory tests on samples of the company’s products from two retail stores indicated the presence of the outbreak strain, according to the CDC. Public health investigators used information from the PulseNet system to identify the DNA “fingerprints” of the outbreak strain, obtained through pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, according to a July 5 statement on the outbreak by the CDC. At press time, no further updates on the outbreak had been posted by the CDC.

The ability of investigators to identify the source of the outbreak from five cases in four states points up the value of the PulseNet system, says Jennifer McEntire, PhD, senior director for food and import safety at Leavitt Partners in Washington.

“Prior to PulseNet, a single illness in any state would not have met the definition of an outbreak,” she says. “Most if not all investigations start at the local or state level, and investigators never would have connected these dots.”

Approximately 800 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis are reported yearly in the U.S., according to the CDC. Out of this number, typically three or four outbreaks are identified, “but the majority of illnesses are sporadic and it’s often difficult to determine the food that caused the illness,” Dr. McEntire says.

“This really showcases why we need to continue to invest in public health infrastructure and not take resources like PulseNet for granted, because they serve such an important function,” she says.


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