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California dairy recalls cheeses after multistate outbreak of Listeria

Workers make string cheese in the Karoun cheese plant in Hollywood.

Workers make string cheese in the Karoun cheese plant in Hollywood.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / For the Times)

A multistate outbreak of listeriosis, including 14 cases in California, has been linked to Middle Eastern-style soft cheeses that were sold in markets nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

Listeria can cause serious, life-threatening illness, especially in the elderly and pregnant women. There has been one death, in Ohio, and 21 hospitalizations among 24 cases.

Five rare but genetically similar DNA fingerprints of Listeria monocytogenes have been identified in this investigation, which dates to Aug. 8, 2010, according to the CDC. Additional illnesses are under investigation.

The cluster of cases was first identified last month. The investigation has not conclusively identified the source of the outbreak, but most people reported eating soft cheese before becoming ill. Four of seven who specified the brand of cheese eaten reported brands distributed by Karoun Dairies. No other brand of cheese was reported more than once.

On Sept. 16, Karoun Dairies Inc., which is headquartered in San Fernando, voluntarily recalled and ceased production of several brands and types of cheeses that were distributed to retail outlets, including supermarkets, in the U.S. Products were sold under the following brands: Karoun, Arz, Gopi, Queso Del Valle, Central Valley Creamery and Yanni. Here is the full list of recalled cheeses.

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“To date, no product has tested positive for Listeria but in view of the association with listeriosis cases Karoun Dairies Inc. is initiating a voluntary recall in the interest of protecting public health,” the company said on its website.

“This unfortunately is not the first time we have seen a Listeria outbreak linked to soft cheese,” said food safety attorney and advocate Bill Marler. “It again shows just how important good manufacturing processes need to be to protect consumers from this deadly pathogen.”

The CDC and state and local public health partners are continuing laboratory surveillance to identify additional ill people in the current outbreak.

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