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March 27, 2014

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Issues Consumer Warning
Illegally manufactured Mexican-style cheese causing foodborne illness

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck is warning people about the dangers of consuming illegally manufactured cheeses.  Health officials are reporting around 100 cases of salmonellosis in 13 counties believed to be linked to consumption of an illegally manufactured Mexican-style cheese.  A sample of the cheese obtained from the home of a person who became ill tested positive for Salmonella.  IDPH is working with local health departments to identify the manufacturer of the contaminated cheese. 

“We’re concerned that people who consume this manufactured cheese may become sick from Salmonella,” said Dr. Hasbrouck.  “It is important for you to check the labeling to make sure the product was made by a licensed dairy manufacturer - even if you purchased the cheese from a grocery store.  If you become ill after eating Mexican-style cheese, contact your health care provider and your local health department.”

Local health departments in Boone, Cook (including the city of Chicago), DuPage, Fayette, Kane, Lake, LaSalle, Macon, Marion, McHenry, Vermillion, Washington and Will counties have reported to IDPH since July 2012 around 100 cases with the same strain of Salmonella believed to be associated with this cheese.  The average age of people who have become ill is nine-years-old and a third of all the cases have been hospitalized. 

Anyone with information about illegally manufactured cheese should contact their local health department for follow up.  Without this information, it will not be possible to prevent further illnesses.  People who become ill after eating illegally manufactured cheese, should keep the cheese for possible testing.

Many cases have reported consuming Mexican-style cheese obtained from worksites, including factories, and at train stations, from street vendors and from relatives and friends.  The cheese is not labeled and is often wrapped in aluminum foil.  IDPH recommends that people who have Mexican-style cheese in their home, but cannot clearly identify the product was made by a licensed or regulated manufacturer, should not eat the cheese. 

While Salmonella bacteria cannot be detected by sight, taste or smell, it can cause illness, including fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.  Most individuals can recover on their own in 3 to 5 days.  The infection can be more severe in young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune system.

IDPH advises against buying or consuming cheese that is suspected to be made by an unlicensed dairy manufacturer.  IDPH encourages consumers to always purchase milk and dairy products made by licensed dairy manufacturers.  Legitimate Mexican-style cheeses are available in the refrigerated case at retail stores and in most cases, label information specifies the legal name of the product, the  name and address of distributor or processor, quantity of contents, an ingredient statement, and nutrition facts.

For more information about Salmonella log on to www.idph.state.il.us/public/hb/hbsam.htm.

Providing essential health information during illness outbreaks is one way IDPH is continuing its mission of protecting health, improving lives and implementing IDPH’s Five Year Strategy.  For a copy of the strategic plan, go to http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/StrategicPlan_Final_2014-2018.pdf.


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