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FDA and CDC Investigate E. coli Outbreak Linked to Raw Cheddar Cheese

Federal health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are actively investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli infections potentially linked to raw cheddar cheese.

The suspected source of the outbreak is Raw Farm-brand Raw Cheddar cheese produced by Raw Farm LLC of Fresno, California. According to the FDA, the Raw Farm Raw Cheddar blocks and shredded cheese products, including Original Flavor and Cheddar with added Jalapeno Flavor variants, were distributed nationwide.

Since the outbreak’s inception, ten individuals have been hospitalized, with cases reported across multiple states including California, Colorado, Utah, and Texas. One patient has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe condition that can lead to kidney failure. No fatalities have been reported, stated the FDA.

Illnesses associated with the outbreak have been reported between October 18, 2023, and January 29, 2024, as per the CDC. State and local investigations have revealed that six out of eight interviewed patients reported consuming Raw Farm brand raw cheddar cheese.

In response to the ongoing investigation, Raw Farm has initiated a recall of specific lots of its cheese products currently within their shelf life.

It’s important to note that this outbreak is distinct from an unrelated listeria outbreak tied to cheese produced by Rizo-Lopez Foods of Modesto, California, and products containing this cheese sold at various retailers including Albertsons, Costco, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Whole Foods, and WinCo.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, bacteria are typically harmless and inhabit the intestines of humans and animals. However, certain strains can cause severe gastrointestinal illnesses when consumed via contaminated food or water. Spread of E. coli contamination commonly occurs through fecal contact with food or water, with improper hand hygiene among food handlers being a significant contributing factor.

Symptoms of E. coli infection usually manifest three to four days after exposure and may include severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting lasting around five to seven days. It’s worth noting that many cases go unreported as individuals may recover without seeking medical attention or being tested for E. coli.

If you have Raw Farm-brand Raw Cheddar cheese in your possession, the FDA advises disposing of it immediately and refraining from consumption. Additionally, individuals, stores, and restaurants that have handled these products should thoroughly clean and sanitize any surfaces or containers that may have come into contact with the cheese to mitigate the risk of E. coli cross-contamination.

Anyone who suspects they may have fallen ill due to consuming these products or exhibits symptoms of E. coli infection is urged to contact their healthcare provider promptly.

Raw milk and raw cheese, which are made from unpasteurized milk, carry inherent risks of bacterial contamination, including E. coli, listeria, and salmonella. While some individuals opt for raw milk due to perceived taste and nutritional benefits, regulatory measures exist to restrict its interstate sale, with safety concerns surrounding its consumption.