Investigation Details

Posted March 1, 2021

March 1, 2021

Epidemiologic Data

Since the last update on February 26, one more illness has been reported. As of March 1, a total of 11 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from four states (see map). Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 20, 2020, to February 14, 2021, with ten recent illnesses in 2021 (see timeline).

Sick people range in age from <1 to 75 years, with a median age of 54. Ten people are Hispanic, and six people are female. Out of ten people with information available, all have been hospitalized. One death has been reported from Maryland.

The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the eight people interviewed, seven people reported eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses. Among the seven people, six reported eating queso fresco – two reported El Abuelito brand and one reported Rio Grande brand.

Public Health Actions

On February 27, El Abuelito Cheese Inc. expanded their recallexternal icon to include all quesillo and requeson products that were made or packed at the same facility as the contaminated queso fresco. Do not eat, sell, or serve recalled queso fresco, quesillo, or requeson cheeses.

Previous Updates

Epidemiologic Data

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the seven people interviewed, six people reported eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses. Among the six people, five reported eating queso fresco – two reported El Abuelito brand and one reported Rio Grande brand.

Public Health Actions

Do not eat, sell, or serve El Abuelito brand quesillo and requeson cheeses, in addition to the recalled queso fresco. FDA has confirmed that these two types of cheeses are made or packed at the same facility as the contaminated queso fresco.

CDC is also advising people at higher risk for severe Listeria illness to not eat any brand of quesillo or requeson cheeses until we learn more. This is because quesillo and requeson cheeses made or packed by El Abuelito Cheese Inc. may have been distributed under other brand names.

FDA is working with El Abuelito Cheese Inc. to recall any additional brands or products that may be contaminated.

Epidemiologic and laboratory data show that queso fresco cheeses made by El Abuelito Cheese Inc. are contaminated with Listeria and have made people sick.

Epidemiologic Data

Since the last update on February 19, three more illnesses have been reported. As of February 23, a total of 10 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from four states (see map). Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 20, 2020, to February 9, 2021, with nine recent illnesses in 2021 (see timeline).

Sick people range in age from <1 to 75 years, with a median age of 54. Nine people are Hispanic, and six people are female. Two illnesses are pregnancy-associated. Out of nine people with information available, all have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Public Health Actions

Investigators are concerned that additional El Abuelito brand cheeses made or handled in the same facility as the queso fresco may be contaminated with Listeria. CDC and FDA are expanding our advice to recommend people not eat, sell, or serve any cheeses sold under the brand name of El Abuelito, in addition to the recalled queso fresco cheeses.

FDA is working with El Abuelito Cheese Inc. to recall additional cheese products made or handled in the same facility and is inspecting the facility.

Epidemiologic and laboratory data show that queso fresco cheeses made by El Abuelito Cheese Inc. are contaminated with Listeria and have made people sick.

Epidemiologic Data

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the five people interviewed, four reported eating queso fresco, including one person who reported El Abuelito brand and one person who reported Rio Grande brand.

Laboratory and Traceback Data

Connecticut officialsexternal icon collected samples of El Abuelito brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses for testing from a store where a sick person reported buying these types of cheeses. On February 19, whole genome sequencing showed that the Listeria bacteria in the cheese are closely related to the Listeria bacteria from sick people in this outbreak. This means that people likely got sick from eating this cheese.

Public Health Actions

On February 19, El Abuelito Cheese Inc. recalledexternal icon all queso fresco products made at the same facility with sell-by dates through 03/28/21. The products were sold under brand names of El Abuelito, Rio Grande, and Rio Lindo. Do not eat, sell, or serve any recalled cheese.

At this time, El Abuelito Cheese Inc. has stopped producing and distributing all products.

Laboratory and Traceback Data

Connecticut officialsexternal icon collected samples of El Abuelito brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses for testing from a store where a sick person reported buying these types of cheeses. On February 16, testing results showed that samples of El Abuelito brand queso fresco cheese were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is currently being conducted to see if the Listeria bacteria in the product are closely related to the Listeria bacteria from sick people in this outbreak.

Public Health Actions

Do not eat, sell, or serve any El Abuelito brand queso fresco cheese. FDA and state partners are working with El Abuelito to recall the contaminated product and to determine if additional products should be recalled.

Until we identify which cheeses are making people sick in this outbreak, CDC continues to advise people at higher risk for severe Listeria illness to not eat Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses (including El Abuelito brand queso fresco cheese) and to contact their healthcare provider right away if they have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.

CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collecting different types of data to investigate a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections.

Epidemiologic data show that Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses may be contaminated with Listeria and may be making people sick. A specific type or brand of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheese has not yet been identified.

Epidemiologic Data

As of February 11, 2021, seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from four states (see map). Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 20, 2020, to January 22, 2021, with six recent illnesses in 2021 (see timeline).

The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Sick people range in age from 45 to 75 years, with a median age of 61. Six people are Hispanic, and 43% are female. All seven people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the four people interviewed, three reported eating at least one type of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheese and all three reported eating queso fresco. Public health officials are continuing to interview sick people to try to identify a specific type or brand of cheese.

Laboratory and Traceback Data

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. CDC PulseNet manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. DNA fingerprinting is performed on bacteria using a method called whole genome sequencing (WGS).

WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak likely got sick from the same food.

State officials are testing samples of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses that they collected from stores where sick people report purchasing cheeses from.

Public Health Actions

CDC is advising people at higher risk for severe Listeria illness to not eat Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses (like queso fresco) until we learn more and to contact their healthcare provider right away if they have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.