2017-03-15 / Front Page

Listeria deaths traced to Walton creamery

Vulto Creamery products blamed in illness outbreak
By Joan Lawrence-Bauer

Listeria, a dreaded word to any food producer, raised its ugly head in Walton last week as Vulto Creamery carried out a recall of its artisanal cheeses following an outbreak of the disease that sickened six people and allegedly caused two deaths.

Local food producers and those who support them were stunned, saddened, and supportive of creamery owner Jos Vulto, who opened the local facility in 2012 after earning praise for cheeses he made in his Brooklyn apartment.

Nicole Day Gray, the founding officer of the Cheese & Dairy Society of New York State and a specialist in federal and state food safety and organic compliance, spoke for many when she told the News, “Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone involved; it’s a truly sad situation. Vulto Creamery is an exceptional creamery with exquisite talent who has experienced a horrific isolated incident.”

Company’s statement

While Vulto did not provide a statement directly to the News, the creamery’s website said, ”Out of an abundance of caution, Vulto Creamery, Walton, New York, is recalling all of its cheeses which include by name the following: Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie, Willowemoc, Hamden, Walton Umber, Andes, & Blue Blais due to potential contamination of Listeria monocytogenes.” The statement also said, “The production and distribution of all cheese products have been suspended while U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the company continue to investigate the source of the problem.”

The recall of the products, sold at such popular stores as Whole Foods, was widely reported in national print and broadcast media outlets, with CNN noting the “Two deaths and six hospitalizations have been reported since September 1 in Connecticut, Florida, New York, and Vermont.”

National distribution

The station also reported that the “cheeses had been distributed nationwide, with most selling in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States; California; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; and the District of Columbia.”

The Vulto website urged that anyone with cheese from Vulto Creamery should return it to the purchase location for a refund and directed wholesalers and retailers to remove all Vulto Creamery cheeses from shelves and common storage areas. According to the site, “Any wholesaler or distributor that has any of the eight Vulto Creamery cheeses should contact Vulto Creamery to receive instructions on what to do with the cheese. No recalled cheese should be destroyed until Vulto Creamery has been notified and agrees.”

Though all Vulto cheese has been voluntarily recalled, the listeria outbreak appears to be connected to the Ouleout product according to a story in the New York Times that says the deaths occurred in Vermont and Connecticut with four others in New York and Florida hospitalized.

FDA and other involved

The FDA, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets are all involved in the investigation of the outbreak. A statement on the FDA website notes it found “samples of Ouleout cheese that matched the genetic fingerprint of Listeria monocytogenes in the outbreak.” On March 10 the FDA received an additional positive test result from the CDC from a retail cheese sample that matched the same fingerprint of Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria is a rare but serious and sometimes fatal illness that causes fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, or symptoms like fever and chills after eating contaminated products. Symptoms can appear quickly or can take up to a few weeks to appear after consumption of the contaminated food. Although healthy individuals may suffer just short-term illness, it can be fatal for young children, frail or elderly people, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems.

The CDC reports that people infected had illnesses that started on dates ranging from September 1, 2016, to January 22, 2017. All six people were hospitalized and two people died. Ill people ranged in age from less than one year to 89, with a median age of 55.

According to the New York Times, the deaths highlighted concerns over safety regulations around artisanal cheese production in the United States, particularly around the raw milk (unpasteurized) cheese segment, which emerged only about a decade ago. According to the Times, more than half of artisanal cheese produced in the United States is made of unpasteurized milk. A review of major recalls though, shows that in February, Sargento Foods, one of the largest cheese makers in the United States, recalled a number of different cheese products due to potential contamination of Listeria monocytogenes.

Products were featured

At a September tasting event at Union Grove in Arkville, Day Gray told the News that the NY Cheese and Dairy Society “exists to help resurrect the farmstead and artisanal cheese and dairy movement happening throughout the state.” Vulto’s products were featured, along with cheese from many other local producers. Day Gray notes how stringent the regulations are for food producers and hopes people “do not allow fear and sensationalism discredit the beauty of raw milk cheese.”

Day Gray told the News “The Cheese & Dairy Society of New York State & AgriForaging Food Safety are pulling together producers and food safety industry professionals to have an open forum conversation regarding pathogenic hazards including Listeria monocytogenes in small ‘food’ production facilities. We will provide further information as it unfolds.”

In the meantime, consumers with any questions or seeking additional information can call Vulto Creamery at 607 222- 3995 during normal hours of operations or send an email to vultocreamery@gmail.com.”

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