FDA, DOJ Say Brooklyn Cheese Maker is Dangerous, 'Insanitary'

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief against Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Peregrina Cheese Inc. and two of its officers, Javier Peregrina and Isabel Peregrina. The company prepares and processes a variety of cheeses, sour cream, flan, and gelatin products and distributes them to specialty grocery stores in northeastern Pennsylvania and in the New York City area.

The government's complaint, filed in the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the company has an extensive history of operating under unsanitary conditions and producing cheese contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne pathogen that can cause serious illness and death. If entered by the court, the injunction would temporarily stop the company and its officers from manufacturing and distributing food until further action is taken by the court.

"This company has consistently failed to make corrections to improve the insanitary conditions under which it processes cheese products, despite frequent warnings to do so," said Michael Chappell, the FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "The FDA will not tolerate food companies that fail to provide adequate safeguards."

As alleged in the complaint, on numerous occasions since 2004, FDA investigators found Listeria monocytogenes in finished cheese products and inside the Peregrina facility. Additionally, routine laboratory testing by New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) also found Listeria in the company's products on numerous occasions since 2003. FDA and NYSDAM inspections also revealed that the company has repeatedly violated the current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) requirements for foods. Investigators have found filthy conditions, standing water in food processing equipment, workers inappropriately dressed, and a dead rodent inside the plant.

The government's complaint alleges that both FDA and NYSDAM repeatedly advised Peregrina Cheese and its officers of their cGMP violations; NYSDAM has also assessed fines against the company. Peregrina's lack of effective measures to bring its food processing operations into compliance with the law poses a public health threat because of the potential that Listeria will be in the food processed by the company, DOJ said.

Listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes, can be serious and sometimes cause fatal infections in young children, frail or older people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may experience only short-term symptoms, such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, Listeria infection in pregnant women can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

DOJ said that no illnesses have been reported to date from Peregrina products but added that if individuals have eaten the products and are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, they should contact their health care professional.

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