Salmonella Surge in California:
50+ Sickened by Mexican-Style Soft Cheeses
Since the end of last year, more than 50 cases of Salmonella illness have been linked to consumption of Mexican-style soft cheeses. The illegal cheeses, often made in unsanitary conditions and with raw milk – which is 150 times more likely to result in foodborne illness than its pasteurized counterpart – are frequently sold by street vendors.
The elevated number of cases caught the attention of California public health officials, who concede that the number of new cases reported is abnormally high. The California Department of Public Health is “seeing a dramatic increase in the number of reported Salmonella cases, particularly in the Hispanic community,” according to State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.
A number of patients linked to the outbreak reported eating Mexican-style cheese that they purchased from street vendors. According to the affected individuals, the cheeses were potentially unpasteurized.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) deemed the issue disturbing enough to maintain an ongoing bilingual “Illegal Cheese Can Make You Sick!” campaign. The informational brochures distributed as part of the agency’s efforts inform consumers that cheese is illegal when “made and sold by unlicensed vendors,” and warns that “production of soft-fresh cheese by unlicensed manufacturers poses a threat” to the reader’s health. The department advises consumers that they risk Salmonella or Listeria infection when consuming illegal cheese, and implores readers to “Play it Safe!” and only eat or buy cheese from the refrigerated section of a reputable store or supermarket.
Salmonellosis, the infection caused by Salmonella bacteria, often results in acute gastroenteritis, an illness that usually results in diarrhea and/or vomiting due to severe inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by the bacteria. Infected individuals typically begin to experience diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 8 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. The diarrhea, which may be bloody, may start suddenly and without warning. Other symptoms occur less frequently, including headache, nausea, vomiting, joint pain and fatigue.
The investigation into the current rash of cases, a number of which have required hospitalization, is ongoing.