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L.A. officials warn of cheeses that could contain harmful bacteria

L.A. health officials have warned the public about eating Latin American-style cheese from unlicensed makers, whose products could be contaminated.

At issue are cheeses such as queso fresco, panela, queso seco, asadero, queso Oaxaca, queso Cotija, and crema, which may be made with unpasteurized milk that could contain harmful bacterias.

The L.A. County Public Health Department said it is working with federal health officials and the L.A. County district attorney's office to find unlicensed vendors and shut them down. Officials urged the public to avoid buying cheese at swap meets or from door-to-door vendors.

"With unlicensed dairy products, you cannot be sure of what you're getting," health officer Jonathan E. Fielding said in a statement. "They may contain unpasteurized milk, have been made in unsanitary conditions, and may have been transported without refrigeration. This is a recipe for disaster, as harmful bacteria in these products can be dangerous to your health and safety."

It's unclear how many cases of illness have been attributed to these tainted cheeses. According to the county, "unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized cheese contain raw milk that has not been heated enough during processing to kill harmful bacteria. These bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, bovine Tuberculosis, and Brucella, can cause miscarriage, illness to unborn babies, diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, swollen neck glands, and/or blood stream infection."

Here are some tips from health officials:

Avoid dairy products with missing or incomplete labels. Labels should provide safe handling and storage information, a list of all the ingredients, including "pasteurized milk," and identify the manufacturer responsible for the product.

Cheese products should be factory sealed.

Buy cheese from the refrigerated section of the market.

Do not purchase cheese from unlicensed manufacturers, unlicensed vendors at swap meets, door-to-door vendors, or on the street.

-- Shelby Grad


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Comments () | Archives (26)

"It's unclear how many cases of illness have been attributed to these tainted cheeses."

while I am quite aware of the dangers of bacterially contaminated food, this whole action seems like a pile of scare tactics against unlicensed vendors. "It could be contaminated. You could get sick. But we have no actual information about any of this actually happening"

There is also nothing in your statement that there *are* any contaminated cheeses, other than the implication in the sentence I quoted above.

Los Angeles is an open-air supermarket of illegal foodstuffs sold by illegal "immigrants". Unlicensed taco-trucks take up parking on nearly every street and stay open til the wee-hours of the morning. People hawking ice-cream, corn-on-the cob and TA-MAL-ES roam through neighborhoods with complete freedom.Nearly every person who becomes ill from one of these vendors will receive medical treatment at the taxpayer's expense. Public health authorities shiver in their shoes about calling for enforcement of public health laws for fear of not appearing "politically correct". It's time that Los Angeles undergo a serious reality check. If people are breaking the law causing others to become ill they need to be arrested and put out of business. Yes, law enforcement does involve stepping on toes sometimes as well it should if need be. Common criminals, which these vendors are, have no interest in following the laws and that's why we have law enforcement agencies. Why not let law enforcement, at the behest of the Health Department, do its job for a change.

Nothing wrong with unpasteurized cheese. In fact, it's much healthier for you than pasteurized. Just because there's a possibility that unpasteurized might make you sick doesn't make it second tier.

RAW is healthy.

The most important thing is that you have to trust your vendor. Obviously, super-cheap cheese from a sketchy vendor is a bad idea whether it's pasteurized or not.

To Anna:
I spent weeks ill after eating a packaged queso fresco product from a local
market. My kidneys started to fail. The damage done from dirty and
bacteria laden products can be deadly. Stop being an idiot and read a biology
Back in the day, people thought nothing of doctors examining dead bodies,
then just wiping off their hands, going to deliver a baby. Women died in
agony from infections.
Science is not racist. Read facts and educate yourself.

Jim Q needs to calm down. While I agree these vendors are unregulated, they are a testament to the power of the free market. They generate a lot of revenue and business, and they fill a need. Why would we shut these entrepeneurs out their business? We should legitimize them, regulate them, and make them pay sales tax. They provide a valuable need to the communities they serve. This is the very power of the free market place that those on the right hail. The right wants smaller less intrusive government, except when it doesn't like the playing field that evolves.

Yes, there is a problem. The food they sell isn't always safe. Instead of snuffing out an entire market place, we should regulate them, license them, and let the entrepenurial individuals do their part in keeping the economic engine running.


I agree with anna. I think this is xenophobic scare tactics. Let's gang up on the "illegals" and stir up more angst towards people attempting to generate a business/income. These are not gang members, these people are not common criminals as someone else posted. They are people attempting to live an American Dream. And didn't the City have a program years ago that targeted the street vendors regarding licensure?

Seems like either a grab for money by the city (licenses) and the targeting of small businesses run by immigrants.

BTW: people get sick at brick and mortar vendors as well. Sometimes more often than not.

As long as people are aware that the cheese is unpasteurized, there's no reason it should should be criminal to sell it.

This is just another example of our paternalistic government telling us we're incapable of judging and assuming risks for ourselves like responsible individuals.

Unpasteurized cheese may not be your thing, maybe you don't like cigarettes, food with trans fats, alcohol, riding your bike without a helmet, marijuana, or soda but don't worry, we've given them the power and they'll come for something you enjoy eventually.

It's not just cheeses. Remember the peanut and pistachio recalls in recent months? These were bigger companies who were found to be dealing in tainted product. I would err on the side of caution if I were a county or state health official.

Enterprising Eddie and Anna:

Eddie :

Well we arent necessarily in a free market, that are rules and regulations. These people clearly chose not to follow those rules. If you run a local market, you know the regulations and if you aren't up-to-date on them or don't understand them, you should have someone explain them to you. It is your responsibility as a BUSINESS to know the rules.

Don't blame the govt because you didnt know; that's a lame-duck excuse. We blame the govt when they say they didnt know, so why can't it be the other way around? It's a two-way street.

People in LA are a bit jumpy to always claim 'racism, xenophobism, etc'. They are going to shut you down if you are making people sick ( think about bad sushi restaurants ) regardless of your race. Get your operation up-to-par.


Why do regular people always want to argue with science ?? They don't really have any reason to tell you this other than all scientific evidence points to this. People give arguments like, ' I ate this, and I didn't get sick ', and just want to argue that it's fine. Well it's not. They got lucky and it doesn't mean that you won't.

Who buys cheese on "the street?" I wouldn't, be it "Latin-American style" or aged Wisconsin cheddar. There's a reason why grocery stores exist, hello? One who buys cheese on the street gets what he or she deserves.

It's cheese, people, not a fake ID!

Street cheese... yuck.

You guys are mixing two things here.

On one side some "officials" are saying cheese made from unpasteurized milk "could" be bad, but they don't present the evidence of this. They're trying to relate two conditions without proof. I grew up in a Latin American country where most, if not all, of the cheese was made and it's still made from unpasteurized milk and nothing happened to me, so is NOT a problem with cheese made from unpasteurized milk.

In fact, cheese made from unpasteurized milk taste better and is probably healthier.

Now, the real problem is if the manufacturer or distributor doesn't have the proper sanitary procedures and measures so the product doesn't get contaminated during manufacturing and/or distribution. That is the real problem, not that the cheese is made from unpasteurized milk.

To Pita:

If your kidneys failed it was because the food was contaminated with some bad bacteria, maybe some fecal matter that was in some contaminated water that was used to make the cheese. It wasn't because the cheese was made from unpasteurized milk. Some bacterias are good and are part of our lives, or didn't you know that your intestines and full of good bacteria ?

So in conclusion, is cheese made from unpasteurized milk bad ?, of course is NOT. Do these vendors need to be regulated so they follow proper sanitary procedures. YES

In this country, Food and Drugs are regulated in order to protect the public. Dairy products can be dangerous and the USDA has strict rules on production, handling and testing of dairy products. If you are not licensed and approved to make, and sell, dairy products, then you should not. It is that simple.

I'm sure you have no objections to requiring that your family Doctor is qualified and licensed (by our paternalistic government) before he does a pelvic exam on your teenage daughter.

I DO want the government to inspect the restaurants that I eat at and, to require crash testing on the cars that I drive.


I'm glad to see that other people are critical thinkers about this issue. RAW MILK, CHEESE, BUTTER, CREAM (unpasteurized) products are very healthy. The health officer above is probably getting pressure from popular dairy makers who are afraid that these fresh, natural, and healthy cheeses are a huge competitor to their mass-producing dairy products that have no vitamins or nutrients because of its pasteurization methods. Wake up people! Don't believe everything you read. Raw is healthier. All the processed foods of every kind that are available to Americans are full of chemicals and pasteurization kills good bacteria that helps you digest!

Anna - it seems you live right in the heart of a nice Latin-American neighborhood. If you don't like it - then leave. Stop spreading your xenophobia on this site. FYI if those vendors are illegal they will never take tax-payers money in medical facilities because they are discriminated everywhere they go and so they stay away from social services. Think and know the population you accuse before speaking. Besides this articles says nothing about people getting ill, “you may get sick” (scare tactics) Where do you get all your evidence from?

OK. Here are the anti-immigrant loonies playing the "illegal alien" card again.

Are you not aware of the many US companies that have had recent e-coli/salmonella outbrakes? : JBS Swift Beef Company , Pasha Halal Poultry, Nestle Tollhouse Cookie Dough, Westco Fruit and Nut Co.

I second JFrommel's comment that Raw is healthy. I am a raw milk drinker and I have had absolutely no problems. I know exactly where my milk comes from. I truthfully cannot say that about a lot of milk sold in grocery stores nor do I really know how old it is and what has been added to it. Crappy milk comes from crappy and probably sick cows.

Correction on your text: bacteria is plural; bacterium is one. There is no such word, formal word that is, as "bacterias" like written in your column.

Lots of scare words and no data. How many people have become ill? How many have died? Were they, in fact, traced to these non-industrial vendors? Mr. Fielding should present facts as a representative of a government department.

Actually, even if some people were made ill or even died from local cheese, I'm sure it's a small number compared to the hundreds made ill by tainted beef. This meat was produced under USDA regulation and was still bad. The problem is that since it was done in a centralized way, many more people were put at risk, compared to the small number from a local vendor.

Think about it, millions of pounds of beef run through a central meat packing plant can all be contaminated and spread to many cities in the US in a few days. This is not speculation: it has already happened several times. Whereas how far can one guy with a cart get with his few pounds of cheese?

Back in the early 1980's there was an outbreak of listeria bacteria from unpasturized milk. Some 40+ nursing mothers and children died.

People who are ignorant of possible consequences need nannies to keep them from harm. Adults with some common sense are welcome to take on whatever they want.

I was especially sorry to see Alta-Dena raw-milk Kiefer off the shelves after that outbreak.

The comments here seem to reflect the natural and problematic extension of the non-enforcement of our immigration laws. Instead of viewing this article for what it is--a public health advisory against cheeses outside of quality enforcement mandated by U.S. law--people seem to view it as a de facto oppression of illegal immigrants who sell the cheese.

We don't enforce the border, people come across illegally seeking more income and a better life, and we call it the American dream. Okay, fine. But apparently in addition to violating immigration law, it's got to be okay to violate the public health code and food licensing laws as well. Hey, it's the American dream to enter our country illegally and sell unlicensed products.

Are we really going to rationalize this? We have all got to get a grip. We can talk about naturalizing illegal immigrants or establishing a temporary worker program with Mexico. But we cannot use the presence of illegal immigrants in this country as an excuse for even more widespread lawlessness. We are engendering a very unhealthy disrespect for our law.

I agree with clvngodess , lets gang up on the illegals. They are making cheese out of their bathtubs and then selling it from their nice warm carts and boxes. Try some corn smootherd with mayo sometime on a nice summer day. Go Chivas and paletas!

PLEASE stop scaremongering and handing out incorrect information!

There is nothing wrong with cheese made from unpasteurized milk, legally it must be aged for at least 60days, and then any bad bacteria are easy for the manufacturer to detect. In fact I presume that you weren't aware that it is bacteria that turn milk into cheese, they are essential to the process.

Cheese absolutely does not need to be factory sealed, many cheeses will not be factory sealed because 1. many delicious cheeses are made by artisan producers using their own milk and not mass produced in a factory and 2. there is nothing wrong with cheese that is cut for you by a cheese monger and wrapped in cheese paper.

Finally cheese does not have to be refrigerated all the time, yes in your own home it should be kept in your refrigerator but try taking a visit to the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop, or the Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco more than 50% of their cheeses on display are not refrigerated.

The only one of the 4 'tips' you offer that is worth listening to is the last one and surely this is just common sense, you don't buy anything you are going to eat unless you know exactly where it has come from.

Well, I guess this is yet one more reason to be vegan...=)

I guess this is yet one more reason that a vegan diet is safe...

I watched a fruit vendor get arrested and I thought well that's the end of that. His cart was gone and I saw him taken away in handcuffs. He was back in the same spot the next day. I was wondering if he paid someone off.

Say it aint so! I hate to hear anything negative about cheese. I love it too much. But I guess you just don't know what you're getting if you buy from an unlicensed manufacturer. I guess I'll have to avoid buying cheese at farmer's markets for a while...

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