FDA: Consumers Should Not Eat Sally Jackson Cheese Due to E. coli Risk

The Food and Drug Administration, in cooperation with other state and local public health agencies, is warning consumers not to eat any Sally Jackson cheeses. The products were processed under conditions that create a significant risk of contamination of the unpasteurized raw milk and finished cheese, and Sally Jackson cheeses have been identified as one possible source of eight cases of E. coli O157 infections in an ongoing investigation.

Earlier this month, FDA was informed of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections by the Oregon Public Health Department (OPHD), WSDA, and the Washington Department of Health (WDOH). An investigation by these three state agencies and Public Health--Seattle and King County has identified eight ill persons with the outbreak strain who were ill between September and November. Of the seven patients for whom food history is available, one person reported consuming Sally Jackson cheese, and four others may have consumed Sally Jackson cheese. Three of the four ill persons who may have consumed Sally Jackson cheese ate cheese from two restaurants serving Sally Jackson cheese, while the fourth tasted several cheeses that may have included Sally Jackson cheese. The remaining two patients consumed artisanal cheeses but do not know if it was Sally Jackson cheese. Analysis of cheese samples is currently in progress. This warning is to protect consumers until more information becomes available.

FDA completed its inspection on Dec. 17 and issued a Form 483, Inspectional Observations, which is not a final agency determination regarding compliance. The inspectional observations include problems related to the sanitation of the facility, its employees, equipment, and utensils as well as problems with facility construction and maintenance.

Unpasteurized raw milk in raw milk cheese is obtained from cows, sheep, or goats and is not pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses. These harmful bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk or eats cheese and other foods made from raw milk. The bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

Most people who develop illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 develop diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps for about 3-4 days, after ingesting the organism. Some illnesses may last longer and are more severe. Infection is usually diagnosed by culture of a stool sample. While most people recover within a week, some may develop a severe infection. A type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can begin as the diarrhea is improving; this can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children less than 5 years old and the elderly. Signs and symptoms of HUS may include: fever, abdominal pain; pale skin tone; fatigue and irritability; small, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth; decreased urination and swelling of the face, hands, feet, or entire body. Persons who experience these symptoms and believe they are at risk for HUS should seek emergency medical care immediately.

Based on currently available information and as a precaution to safeguard public health, FDA, OPHD, and WSDA recommend that consumers not eat any Sally Jackson cheeses. To prevent people or animals, including wild animals, from eating the cheese, cheese that is not returned to the place of purchase should be disposed of in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can.

Sally Jackson cheeses have been distributed or subdustributed in several places, including: California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. This list may not be complete. Numerous resellers can be found on the internet. The products include cow, sheep, and goat cheeses produced by Sally Jackson Cheese of Oroville, Wash. The products do not have labels or codes, and are wrapped in plain brown paper, twine, and either grape or chestnut leaves.

Sally Jackson Cheese has agreed to voluntarily recall the products and to notify its customers directly. FDA, WSDA, WDOH, OPHD, and public health agencies continue to collaborate in this ongoing investigation. Instructions to consumers may change as more information becomes available.

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