1 dead, 2 hospitalized after listeria outbreak linked to cheese from Yakima firm

OLYMPIA -- A listeria outbreak linked to consumption of a soft cheese produced by a Yakima firm has led to the death of one person and hospitalization of two others, the Washington State Department of Health said Friday.

As of Friday, a total of three cases have been identified in King, Pierce and Yakima counties. One illness was pregnancy-associated, two people were hospitalized and one death was reported.

The affected products made by the Yakima-based Queseria Bendita company are subject to a voluntary recall and the firm has stopped producing cheese.

State health and agriculture officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on an ongoing outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to consumption of Latin-style soft cheese produced by Queseria Bendita.

Health officials are warning consumers who may have purchased these three Queseria Bendita brand cheeses: Queso Fresco, Panela, and Requeson and still have it in their refrigerators to throw the product away and not eat it.

They said grocery stores and distributors should pull and not sell these products.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeriamonocytogenes. The department said the disease affects primarily older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Blood stream infections or meningitis may occur.

The department said infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn. Symptoms often begin three weeks after infection, but it could take anywhere from three to 70 days.

Anyone who believes they may have become ill with listeriosis should contact their health care provider, the department said.

The department said there are some steps everyone can take to reduce the risk of acquiring a Listeria infection -- avoiding unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk (including cheese); washing raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating; and thoroughly cooking raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.

More information on Listeria can be found on the Department of Health website.