Outbreak Investigation of Listeria monocytogenes: Queso Fresco and Cotija Cheese (February 2024)

The FDA and CDC, in collaboration with state and local partners, are investigating illnesses in a multi-year, multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to queso fresco and cotija cheeses manufactured by Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc., of Modesto, California.

This outbreak includes cases dating back to 2014 and is currently ongoing. CDC investigated this outbreak in 2017 and 2021. Epidemiologic evidence in previous investigations identified queso fresco and other similar cheeses as a potential source of the outbreak, but there was not enough information to identify a specific brand.

A sample of Rizo Bros Aged Cotija tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes during sampling conducted by the Hawaii State Department of Health’s Food and Drug Branch in January 2024. In response to that finding, Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc. voluntarily recalled one batch of Rizo Bros Aged Cotija Mexican Grating Cheese (8oz) on January 11, 2024. CDC and FDA reopened the investigation in January 2024 after new illnesses were reported in December 2023 and whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis of the cotija cheese sample showed that it is the same strain of Listeria that is causing illnesses in this outbreak.

According to CDC, of the 22 people interviewed, 16 (73%) reported eating queso fresco, cotija, or other similar cheeses. Among people who remembered specific brands, three people who got sick between 2014 and 2022 reported Don Francisco brand queso fresco or cotija. Don Francisco is one of the brands of recalled cheeses.

FDA initiated an on-site inspection at Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc.  FDA’s inspection is still ongoing; however, an environmental sample collected during that inspection tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. WGS analysis of that sample showed that it is the same strain of Listeria that is causing illnesses in this outbreak.

In response to this investigation, Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc. has voluntarily recalled all sell by dates of its dairy products. The recalled products include cheese, yogurt, and sour cream sold under the brand names Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Dos Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 Whole Foods Market. The firm has temporarily ceased the production and distribution of these products while their investigation is ongoing.

FDA’s investigation is ongoing and FDA will continue to update this advisory as information becomes available.

 

Recalled products include all “Sell By” dates of cheese, yogurt, and sour cream (crema) sold under the brand names:

  • Tio Francisco
  • Don Francisco
  • Rizo Bros
  • Rio Grande
  • Food City
  • El Huache
  • La Ordena
  • San Carlos
  • Campesino
  • Santa Maria
  • Dos Ranchitos
  • Casa Cardenas
  • 365 Whole Foods Market

Product description, size, and UPCs are listed below. Additional information is also available in the firm’s recall notice.

Symptoms of Listeriosis (Listeria Infection)

Symptoms usually start within two weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria but may start as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks after. Mild symptoms may include a fever, muscle aches, nausea, tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhea. If the more severe form of listeriosis develops, symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

Stores Affected

  • Sold Nationwide

Status

Ongoing; updates will be provided as they become available.

Recommendations:

  • Do not eat, sell, or serve recalled brands of cheeses, sour creams (cremas), or yogurts manufactured by Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc.
  • Check your refrigerators and freezers for any recalled products and throw them away. If you froze a product without the original packaging and can’t tell if it is part of the recall, throw it away.
  • Consumers, restaurants, and retailers who purchased or received recalled products, including wholesale products, should carefully clean and sanitize any surfaces or containers that it touched. Follow FDA’s safe handling and cleaning advice to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Listeria can survive in refrigerated temperatures and can easily spread to other foods and surfaces.
  • If you have symptoms of listeriosis you should contact your health care provider to report your symptoms and receive care.

Recommendations for At-Risk Groups

  • Listeria is most likely to sicken pregnant people and newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Other people can be infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.
  • Pregnant people typically experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
  • Call your healthcare provider right away if you have symptoms of a Listeria infection.