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Rizo Lopez Foods Source of Long Listeria Outbreak

Posted in Our Blog on February 2, 2024

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collaborating with state and local partners to investigate illnesses linked to a multi-ear, multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes.  With cases dating back to 2014, a source is finally identified. Here is what we know about this Rizo Lopez Foods Listeria Outbreak:

Dairy products from Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc. – specifically queso fresco, cotija, and other types of cheese.

Cases Dating Back to 2014

Over the past 10 years, the CDC has investigated a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak. Outbreaks in 2014, 2017, and 2021 have been reported. Including the current cases, there have been a total of 26 linked illnesses that have resulted in 23 hospitalizations and 2 deaths.

The nature of foodborne illnesses such as Listeria often leads to a small sample size of reported cases. Most normally healthy individuals recover on their own without medical intervention, and for those that do seek medical care, specific tests must be performed to identify the bacterial strain. Without that information, the patient will not be linked to the outbreak. A significant number of cases are not included in the outbreak data, so the case count is likely significantly higher than 26.

According to CDC reports, samples taken from patients included in this outbreak range from June 15, 2014, to December 10, 2023, across 11 states. Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington all had cases linked to this outbreak.

Not Enough Data to Identify a Source

Why did it take 10 years to identify a source? Investigators say there was not enough data.

According to the report, there was enough epidemiologic evidence to support the outbreak was lined to queso fresco and other similar cheeses as the potential source of the outbreak(s), however there was not enough information that could point to a specific brand.

Routine Sampling Flagged Rizo Lopez Cheese

Routine sampling conducted by the Hawaii State Department of Health’s Food and Drug Branch in January 2024 found Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of Rizo Bros Aged Cotija. The firms, Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc., initiated a recall of a single batch of Rizo Bros Aged Cotija Mexican Grading Cheese on January 11, 2024, in response.

When new illnesses began popping up in December 2023, the CDC and FDA reopened the investigation.

A type of testing known as whole genome sequencing (WGS) analyzes the genetic material of the sample. In this case, the strain of Listeria found in the Rizo Bros Aged Cotija was found to be the same strain of Listeria causing illness in this outbreak.

Interview Data Expanded the Scope

Of the 26 reported cases, 22 people were interviewed. A significant amount of those questioned reported eating queso fresco, cotija, or other similar cheeses about the time that they became sick.

Of those who remembered specific brands, three of those who became sick between 2014 and 2022 indicated Don Francisco as the likely brand. Don Francisco ended up being one of the brands that was included in the recall.

On-site Inspections Found More Listeria

As part of the investigation, the FDA initiated an on-site inspection at the Rizo Lopex Foods, Inc facility. An environmental sample collected tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

The presence of harmful Listeria bacteria was an indicator of a problem. Genetic analysis showed that it was the same strain of Listeria that was linked to the outbreak. This information expanded the investigation into other products.

Recall Expanded

In response to the investigation, Rizo Lopez Foods, Inc issued another recall. This time for all sell by dates of their dairy products. This included cheese, yogurt, and sour cream sold under a variety of names such as Tio Francisco, Don Franscisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Don Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 Whole Foods Market to name a few. There are at least 58 total line items on the recall list.

Production and distribution of these dairy products has been temporarily halted while the investigation takes place.

The Recall

Recalled products were distributed nationwide by the firm and through distributors. In addition to direct consumer purchase, these products were also available at certain retail deli counters such as El Super, Cardenas Market, Northgate Gonzalez, Superior Groceries, El Rancho Vallarta, Food city, La Michoacana, and Numero Uno Markets.

A complete list of recalled items can be found here.

This is the second update of recalled information. The FDA continues to update their webpage as more information becomes available.

What is Listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes is the bacteria responsible for the illness, listeriosis. It causes a serious infection often lined to contaminated foods.

The CDC estimates about 1,600 people become sick with listeriosis each year. About 260 of those die from the illness.

While anyone can become infected with Listeria, most normally healthy people do not become seriously ill. There are certain groups, however, that are more at risk of becoming sick or experiencing more severe illness.

High-risk groups include:

  • Pregnant people and their newborns
  • The elderly aged 65 or older
  • Those with a weakened immune system

Listeriosis Symptoms

There are two types of Listeria illness symptoms. Those associated with intestinal illness and those associated with more invasive illness.

Intestinal Illness

The most common symptoms of listeriosis involve intestinal illness. This is where the infection affects the digestive system. It often involves vomiting and diarrhea that often begins within 24 hours of consuming contaminated food and lasts around 1 to 3 days.

Most people with this type of listeriosis will not need antibiotic treatment and simply treat symptoms and hydrate until the illness passes. Those in the higher risk groups may need medical treatment and antibiotics to recover.

Intestinal listeriosis may evolve to a more invasive illness.

Invasive Illness

Invasive illness occurs when Listeria bacteria make its way beyond the digestive system and enter other parts of the body. In this case, listeriosis affects pregnant and non-pregnant people differently. In both categories, symptoms often begin about 2 weeks after consuming the contaminated food.

Pregnant People

Pregnant people generally experience milder personal symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. The greater risk is associated with the unborn child. Listeriosis during pregnancy can lead to still birth, premature delivery, miscarriage, or life-threatening infection in the newborn.

Non-pregnant People

People who are not pregnant often experience symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Fever and muscle aches are also possible symptoms. This type of illness can be serious and life-threatening. 1 in 20 non-pregnant people with invasive listeriosis will die from their illness.

Most people with invasive listeriosis require medical treatment and often need hospitalization.

Have You Become Sick After Eating Rizo Lopez Dairy Products?

If you have fallen sick from eating dairy products from Rizo Lopez, Inc., you may be eligible for legal compensation.

The Lange Law Firm, PLLC has helped many families with cases just like yours help hold accountable those responsible for foodborne illness. When a company becomes negligent, people become sick.

If you have become sick after eating Rizo Lopez dairy products, you should get advice. An experienced Listeria lawyer can help navigate you through the legal process.

Call (833) 330-3663 or submit your information on the online submission form for a free consultation.