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

August 19, 2009 |  6:18 am

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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