"Gross Contamination" in Cheese Linked to Illinois Food PoisoningApr 16, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Following reports of an array of food borne illnesses in Illinois, tests have just confirmed “gross contamination” in samples of cheese likely linked to the sicknesses of at least three people in Winnebago County. Four additional cases are under investigation reported the Rockford Register Star.
On Tuesday, the health department reported three confirmed cases of Campylobacter jejuni; Wednesday, Sue Fuller, a spokeswoman at the Illinois Department of Public Health, confirmed Listeria and fecal coliform contamination. The contaminations were all found in illegally manufactured cheese, said the Rockford Register Star.
The cheese, reported the Rockford Register Star, is “white, shaped into rounds, and packaged in unmarked food-storage bags,” adding that the contaminated cheese was typically “sold out of cars and trucks in parking lots near” … “churches or markets.” The Rockford Register said inspectors discovered some cheese at a retail outlet. Fuller explained, said the Rockford Register, that the operators selling the cheese would most likely not be fined, but would undergo an educational program. As of yesterday, another 30-to-50 locations were being looked at; 20 were looked at Tuesday.
Campylobacter jejuni causes Campylobacteriosis, one of the most common food borne diarrheal illnesses in the United States, and is generally spread via raw or undercooked poultry. Larger outbreaks are usually associated with unpasteurized milk or contaminated water. Symptoms tend to start two-to-five days after exposure and last about one week, causing diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea and vomiting; fever is typical and the diarrhea is often bloody. Some people can suffer long-term consequences such as arthritis and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can require intensive care. The tests to link the Campylobacter infection to the tainted cheese are complicated and may not be completed until next week, said the Rockford Register.
Regarding the Listeria contamination, Fuller told the Rockford Register, “We did find out that the Listeria is Listeria monocytogenes, one of the more severe types.” Listeriosis, the food poisoning generated by Listeria monocytogenes, is particularly dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, those with chronic medical conditions, people with HIV, or those undergoing chemotherapy. In serious cases, the disease spreads to the nervous system, causing headaches, stiff neck, and convulsions. Listeriosis can also cause meningitis and blood poisoning in immune-compromised individuals. In pregnant women, Listeriosis can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth of a baby suffering from the infection. Pregnant women are about 20 times likelier than others to be infected, with about one-third of Listeriosis cases occurring during pregnancy; the incidence of Listeriosis in newborns is 8.6 per 100,000 live births and the perinatal and neonatal mortality rate (stillbirths and early infant deaths) is 80 percent.
Fuller noted that “the fecal coliform is quite high, 150,000 colonies per gram, so this is considered gross contamination,” quoted the Rockford Register. Fecal coliform bacteria are a group of bacteria passed through fecal excrement, with the most common member being Escherichia coli (E. coli). E. coli is a diarrheagenic bacteria termed “enterohemorrhagic E. coli” that cause serious and sometimes deadly infections with symptoms that range from mild diarrhea to more profound watery or bloody diarrhea with severe abdominal cramping.