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CDC warns of listeria outbreak linked to queso fresco

The CDC on Sunday issued a food safety alert warning of a listeria outbreak linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses that has sickened seven people in four states. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention&nbsp;<br>
The CDC on Sunday issued a food safety alert warning of a listeria outbreak linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses that has sickened seven people in four states. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Feb. 17 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday warned of an outbreak of listeria linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.

The CDC issued a food safety alert after officials in Connecticut found listeria in samples of El Abuelito brand queso fresco on Tuesday.

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There have been seven illnesses and seven hospitalizations related to the outbreak in four states to date, the agency said.

A recall has not yet been issued and the CDC is investigating whether the listeria found in the queso fresco is the same bacteria making people sick in the outbreak.

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Listeria can cause severe illness that induces headaches, stiffness of the neck, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions and muscle aches after spreading from the stomach to other parts of the body.

Adults 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for severe illness, the CDC said. Pregnant people are also at greater risk and listeria infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

"Do not eat any Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses (like queso fresco, queso blanco and queso panela), including any El Abuelito brand queso fresco, until we identify which cheeses are making people sick in this outbreak," the CDC warned the most at-risk groups.

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Additionally, the agency said anyone experiencing symptoms, which usually emerge 1-4 weeks after eating contaminated food but may begin as early as the same day or as late as 70 days later, should contact their physician.

The CDC recommended that those not facing the highest risk still refrain from eating any El Abuelito brand queso fresco and ensure the labels on all other Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses indicate they were made with pasteurized milk.

"Be aware that Hispanic-style soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk have caused listeria outbreaks. Although pasteurization of milk kills listeria, products made from pasteurized milk can still become contaminated if they are produced in facilities with unsanitary conditions," the agency said.

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Businesses were also encouraged not to serve or sell any El Abuelito brand queso fresco and follow federal handling and cleaning guidelins when serving or selling Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses.

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