(CN) – A Delaware cheesemaker agreed to plead guilty to selling tainted cheese connected to a 2014 pathogen outbreak, the government said Friday.
A criminal information filed Friday charges Roos Foods Inc. with the distribution of adulterated cheese in commerce, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Roos allegedly distributed ready-to-eat ricotta, queso fresco and cheese curd that was connected to a 2014 outbreak of pathogenic bacteria listeria monocytogenes, or L. mono.
Five adults and three newborns in Maryland and California were infected with the pathogen and several of the Maryland patients reported eating soft or semi-soft cheeses before their illnesses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in February 2014.
L. mono causes listeriosis, a potentially fatal bacterial infection.
Ready-to-eat foods pose a greater threat of L. mono because the pathogen is capable of adapting and growing at refrigerator temperatures, the government said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected Roos’ Kenton, Del., facility from Feb. 18 to March 4, 2014, and found that ready-to-eat cheese products had been packed or held under unsanitary conditions, according to the 9-page criminal information.
“The FDA inspection revealed significant sanitation deficiencies, such as widespread roof leaks in the manufacturing area, including over open manufacturing equipment; rust flakes on the manufacturing equipment from corroded roof trusses and metal roofing; un-cleanable surfaces on walls, floors, and ceilings; and product residue on equipment that had purportedly been cleaned,” the information states.
During the inspection, FDA investigators found L. mono on 12 surfaces, including on the floor drain in the refrigerated storage room, a cutting board, the bottom of the cheese press, scrub brushes and a utility table, the government says.
Roos’ food facility registration was suspended by the FDA on March 11, 2014, making it ineligible to distribute any food products.
The company signed a plea agreement, consenting to plead guilty to a misdemeanor Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) violation, according to the Justice Department.
Roos and its principals Ana Roos and Virginia Mejia also agreed to a proposed consent decree of permanent injunction, the government said.
The decree requires them to stop preparing, processing and distributing any food products until they bring their operations into compliance with the FDCA.
Roos has not reopened since its FDA suspension.
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