Deadly bacteria outbreak linked to Modesto company’s dairy products after decade of reports

A Modesto-based company is linked to 26 listeria infections, between June 2014 and December 2023, that hospitalized 23 people and killed two others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outbreak is linked to queso fresco, cojita cheese, crema and yogurt from Rizo-López Foods, headquartered at 201 S. McClure Road. The CDC stated this was confirmed through interviews with infected people, as well as recent listeria findings in both the company’s cheese and facility.

“This is the first time any product that we manufacture has been linked to a food-borne illness,” the company’s CEO and owner Edwin Rizo said in a statement. “As soon as we were aware of this, we made the immediate decision to stop production and voluntarily recall all our products manufactured in our facility.”

Listeria cases from this outbreak have been reported 26 times in 11 states over nearly 10 years. The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, according to the CDC.

In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported, as it usually takes three to four weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Eight of the confirmed cases have been reported in California — the largest number compared to any other state, according to CDC data. The other 18 cases were reported in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.

One person in California and one person in Texas have died as a result of the outbreak, according to a statement.

The CDC investigated this outbreak in 2017 and in 2021, the agency stated. Evidence in previous investigations identified queso fresco and similar cheeses as a potential source of the outbreak, but there was not enough information to identify a specific brand.

The CDC investigation was reopened in January 2024 after new illnesses were reported in December 2023 and the outbreak strain was found in a cheese sample from Rizo-López Foods.

Due to potential contamination, the company on Monday voluntarily recalled all cheeses and dairy products made in its facility.

“We are working hard and diligently to find the root cause of the problem and take corrective actions to prevent it from happening again,” Rizo said. His company started as a local cheese supplier in 1990.

What you should do next

Recalled queso fresco, cojita and other dairy products should have been pulled from shelves at retail stores.

Do not eat the dairy products. If you have any in your home, throw them away.

Because listeria can easily spread, clean your refrigerator, containers and any other surfaces that came in contact with the food.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC has not listed contact information for customers to inquire about the recall.

What was recalled, and where it was sold

The recalled products were distributed nationwide by RLF and through distributors, according to PR Newswire. Products also were sold at retail deli counters including, but not limited to, El Super, Cardenas Market, Northgate Gonzalez, Superior Groceries, El Rancho, Vallarta, Food City, La Michoacana, and Numero Uno Markets.

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.

Listeria symptoms

Listeria symptoms — fever, muscle aches, lethargy, headache, stiff neck, disorientation and balance loss, and seizures — can materialize as early as the same day once you ingest food with listeria, according to the CDC.

Those most vulnerable to the bacterial illness include pregnant people, those 65 and older and individuals with weakened immune systems.

“This is because Listeria is more likely to spread beyond their gut to other parts of their body, resulting in a severe condition known as invasive listeriosis,” the CDC wrote in a statement.

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