Do you have any Sargento Foods products in your fridge? If you do, you may want to read this before you start making the kids’ lunches. In mid-February 2017, the “Home of Real Cheese People” issued a recall of several retail products due to a potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination that occurred at their Plymouth, Wisconsin facility. Because these Sargento cheese products have a long shelf life, you may still have some in your fridge so you’ll want to be careful.
Listeria monocytogenes: What Is It?
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that, if you ingest it, can lead to a serious infection we call ‘Listeriosis.’ The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, that this bacterium is the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness or food poisoning. Listeria makes approximately 1600 people sick every year, of which about 260 die from the infection.
Because this bacterium lives in soil and water, you can see it appear in things like vegetables. Some animals (e.g., cattle and poultry) also carry Listeria but don’t always outwardly appear sick. As a result, it can be challenging to gauge the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in raw meats or processed foods like cold cuts and various cheeses.
Other Listeria monocytogenes Food Sources:
Food sources of Listeria monocytogenes may include:
Deli meats and hot dogs
Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads
Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products
Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk
Refrigerated smoked seafood
Listeria Symptoms – What to watch out for
Symptoms of Listeria monocytogenes infection may include:
According to the Alliance for Listeriosis Prevention, if you eat a Listeria-contaminated product, the risk of it giving you an infection is very small. However, there are generally three at-risk populations who should still be very aware of the products they eat.
Pregnant women (and their newborns)
Older adults (over half of Listeria infections occur in 65+ year-olds)
People with weakened or compromised immune systems
If you are part of a high-risk group, have eaten a contaminated product, and are showing signs of Listeriosis within two months, you should set up an appointment with your doctor.
Listeria Hysteria: Do Manufacturers Know How to Avoid It?
The short answer is yes. But for whatever reason(s), these things happen from time to time. You just have to hope that these oversights don’t affect the people potentially consuming contaminated products.
Generally, the pasteurization process kills Listeria. When it comes to ready-to-eat processed meats, specific heating procedures are also enough to kill the bacterium.
If manufacturers fail, however, to follow proper practices, this can lead to Listeria contamination even after processing. But unlike other germs, Listeria monocytogenes can survive and grow in cold refrigerator temperatures, too. So, there is unfortunately still room for error.
Both government agencies and the food industry including the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are continually working towards reducing Listeria contamination. In fact, when incidences like Sargento’s contaminated food happen, they make sure that food monitoring and plant inspections intensify (and that they recall food, if necessary).
Sargento Cheese Recalls: How They Responded
It actually wasn’t “Sargento cheese” per se, but one of their suppliers. Since then, one Sargento statement confirmed that “out of concern for the health and well-being of Sargento consumers, the company has also terminated its relationship with Deutsch Kase Haus.”
There were seven cheese products in total that Sargento recalled. But only two of them – Ultra Thin Sliced Longhorn Colby and Chef Blends Shredded Nacho & Taco Cheese – were potentially infected. The other five were recalled as well but out of extreme caution because they were packaged on the same line and risked cross-contamination.
Fortunately for Sargento, this incident only occurred at their Plymouth location, so the recalls haven’t affected any other Sargento-branded products.
It’s important to know that these cheeses were recalled “due to a potential contamination of Listeria monocytogenes,” and not a definite one. Thankfully, there have been no confirmed illnesses.
If you’re concerned about the Sargento cheese you buy or know someone buys, the cheesemakers have also set up this information site. It includes a full list of the products they recalled and outlines four key pieces of information: the UPC (the bar code number), its size (in ounces), a description (the product name), and the ‘Sell By’ dates.
We understand that the list may not be exactly comforting to look at, but an informed consumer is a healthy consumer. Some of these products have dates as far along as July 2017, so you very well could have some of a bad batch.
Listeria monocytogenes: the FDA’s Recent Recalls
Vulto Creamery: Raw Milk Cheeses
Vulto Creamery: Ouleout and Miranda soft raw milk cheese
Biery Cheese Co: Monterey Jack Cheese with Jalapeno Peppers
Meijer: Muenster Cheese
Fusia: Szechuan Stir Fry
York’s Fresh Market: Cheese
Lipari Old Type, Copperwood: Cheeses
These are but a tiny fraction of the recalls, market withdrawals, and safety alerts that the FDA posts almost daily. They have a running list which you can find here. And for recall notices that are over two months old, they have an archive going as far back as 2006.
Recalls for several contaminants happen more regularly than we’d probably like to admit, like the ones about hummus and frozen food. The most worrisome aspect is that most people eat these very popular products. So, keep doing your best to stay aware of the products that you and your family are eating. We think keeping up with the FDA recall lists are a pretty great place to start.