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Health officials warn of bad cheese

Dairy products from unlicensed manufacturers could cause serious health problems

Posted: August 18, 2009 9:17 p.m.
Updated: August 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Public health officials on Tuesday warned that soft, Mexican-style cheeses from unlicensed manufacturers could be creamy havens for deadly bacteria.

"With unlicensed dairy products, you cannot be sure of what you're getting," Jonathan E. Fielding, Los Angeles County Director of Public Health, said in a written statement.

"They may contain unpasteurized milk, have been made in unsanitary conditions and may have been transported without refrigeration. This is a recipe for disaster as harmful bacteria in these products can be dangerous to your health and safety."

The announcement came as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is investigating black-market cheese rings throughout the county that are selling potentially tainted dairy products.

Some of the most common dairy offenders include wet cheeses: queso fresco, panela, crema, queso seco, asadero, queso oaxaca and queso cojita, the agency said.

Improperly made or stored dairy products could carry E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Brucella, causing health conditions including stomach cramps, diarrhea, miscarriage, fever and other symptoms.

"We are finding that there are illegal operations occurring in homes where people are taking cheese brought in from points unknown and packing it and selling it door to door - or, in some cases, even attempting to sell it to retail markets," said Terrance Powell, director of specialized surveillance and enforcement with the Department of Public Health.

Health officials kicked off a campaign Tuesday encouraging county residents to "Check your Cheese" - that is, make sure dairy products come from licensed manufacturers.

Consumers should be suspicious about any cheeses and creams sold by door-to-door vendors or at swap meets, especially if they aren't refrigerated or factory sealed, Powell said.

"We would like it for people to buy their cheese from licensed locations such as retail markets or restaurants," he said. "The cheese should be securely packaged, should have appropriate labeling and should be refrigerated."

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