Four people have been indicted for selling moldy, tainted cheese contaminated with at least two dangerous—sometimes deadly—pathogens. The four allegedly washed a massive 110,000 pounds of moldy Mexican cheese, scraping the mold and fungus and shipping the cheese to retailers, said the Sun Times.
After the sellers returned the cheese because it was, according to consumers, slimy and moldy, the four allegedly scraped off the bad parts of the cheese and sent it out to be sold again, The Sun Times pointed out.
The tainted Mexican cheese was shipped in 2007 and a recall was issued that September for Queso Cincho de Guerrero, a dry, hard Mexican cheese sold in 35- and 40-pound wheels, said the Sun Times. The recalled cheese, produced by “Quesos Sabrosos,” was distributed in Indiana, Michigan, Georgia, Texas, and Illinois in retail stores.
“It has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious … infections in young children, frail, or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems,” the FDA said in 2007.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) obtained samples of the cheese and discovered that the samples contained a variety of bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella, said Sun Times. Of note, the four men are accused of distributing cheese ordered to be held for FDA inspection.
The four are connected to both Quesos Sabrosos Mexicanos and Mexican Cheese Producers, lnc. Baldemar Zurita, 39 of Chicago, Illinois, was just arrested and appeared in federal court where he pleaded not guilty to charges from Assistant U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti, which included conspiracy, among other charges, said the Sun Times.
Zurita’s brother, Guadalupe Zurita, 42, of Villahermosa Mexico, who owned Quesos Sabrosos Mexicanos, was also charged; a warrant has been issued for Zurita. The company imported Mexican specialty cheese and dried Mexican peppers.
Miguel Leal, 47, of Monroe, Wisconsin—president and owner of Mexican Cheese Producers, Inc—and Cynthia Gutierrez, 37, of Cicero, Wisconsin, were also charged. Gutierrez was the finance and operations manager at Mexican Cheese Producers, according to the Sun Times. Leal and Gutierrez are accused of attempting to hide their actions by lying to FDA inspectors and sending the agency false documents.
All four were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FDA regulations, as well as three counts of violating the food safety law, said The Chicago Tribune.
No known illnesses have been reported to the agency, said The Tribune.
According to the government, the criminal investigation into the alleged illegal distribution of adulterated cheese began when the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs advised the FDA’s criminal section, said the Sun Times, noting that the agency said it believed it was lied to. The Tribune pointed out that the cheese was held for inspection by the FDA, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and was later found to be adulterated with dangerous bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli.