Cheese’s high level of contaminant fuels worries

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By Mike DeDoncker


Posted Apr 16, 2009 @ 12:38 AM


Tests confirmed “gross contamination” in samples of cheese believed to have sickened at least three people in Winnebago County.

What you can do

If you believe you have been infected by eating illegally manufactured cheese, call your doctor and the Winnebago County Health Department’s communicable-diseases section, 815-720-4061.

Also, report vendors illegally selling uninspected cheeses by calling 815-720-4100.

The Health Department reported three confirmed cases Tuesday of Campylobacter jejuni, one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the U.S.

Spokeswoman Sue Fuller said Wednesday that results of testing at the Illinois Department of Public Health laboratory also confirmed Listeria and fecal coliform contamination in the illegally manufactured cheese.

Tests to link the Campylobacter infection to the cheese are more complicated and may not be completed until next week.

“We did find out that the Listeria is Listeria monocytogenes, one of the more severe types,” Fuller said, “and the fecal coliform is quite high, 150,000 colonies per gram, so this is considered gross contamination.”

Dr. Robert Bales, the agency’s medical director, said Campylobacter jejune is usually not a severe ailment for otherwise healthy adults, “but we always worry about diarrhea in children and the elderly because of the dehydration associated with it. Listeria is a different problem. In adults, it causes diarrhea, and we do not have any confirmed cases of Listeria.

“The problem we need to emphasize is that, in pregnant women, Listeria can cross over to the baby through the placenta and then can cause problems with fetal infection.”

Four other cases are being investigated in connection with the cheese, and Fuller said health inspectors and food sanitation personnel checked 20 locations in the county Tuesday.

The cheese, which is white, shaped into rounds and packaged in unmarked food-storage bags, was usually sold out of cars and trucks in parking lots near such locations as churches or markets, but inspectors found the cheese at one unidentified retail outlet.

Fuller said its operators probably would not be fined, but they would receive an education program.

Thirty to 50 other locations were being checked Wednesday.



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