Cheese Causes Foodborne Illness Deaths

The Physicians Committee
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NEWS RELEASE March 10, 2017
Cheese Causes Foodborne Illness Deaths
Physicians Committee Statement from Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C. Physicians Committee President

Yet another reason to escape The Cheese Trap: Two people have died from eating cheese from Vulto Creamery that was contaminated with listeria bacterium. The same outbreak hospitalized six others nationwide.

Listeria-contaminated cheese is not uncommon. Last month, Sargento Foods Inc. recalled several cheese products because of possible listeria contamination. Listeria—found in soil and water and some animals—is most often found in hot dogs, luncheon meats, soft cheeses, and smoked seafood. It can also be found in unpasteurized milk and contaminated raw meat and vegetables.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1,600 people become seriously ill with listeriosis each year, and of these approximately 260 die.

Even so, contamination with listeria is probably the least dangerous part of cheese. The saturated fat and cholesterol in cheese contribute to thousands of deaths every year, and the estrogens in cheese, which come from the fact that dairy cows are pregnant 9 months of the year, are under investigation for their contribution to hormone-related conditions, including cancer.

Read our foodborne illness fact sheet to learn more about listeria and other foodborne pathogens.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.

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