The source of decade-long Listeria outbreaks was identified as cheeses manufactured by Rizo Lopez Foods

Source of several outbreaks over a decade identified

The CDC reported that as of February 8, 2024, 26 people were infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria. 23 people were hospitalized, and 2 deaths have been reported, one from California and one from Texas. The outbreak strain has been reported from 11 states: Arizona (4), California (8), Colorado (4), Florida (1), Georgia (1), Nevada (1), North Carolina (1), Oregon (1 ), Tennessee (2), Texas (2), and Washington (1).   The CDC had previously investigated some outbreaks connected to queso fresco and other similar types of cheese in 2017 and 2021 but did not find sufficient evidence to identify a source of the outbreaks. Investigators believed that Hispanic-style cheeses were the source of the Listeria but didn’t have the evidence until now to name a specific product.   The breakthrough came in January 2024, when the Hawaii State Department of Health found Listeria monocytogenes in a Rizo Bros Aged Cotija cheese sample. Rizo Lopez Foods (Modesto, CA) initially recalled a single product batch. But after Listeria illnesses from December 2023 were later linked to the cotija cheese along with other products from Rizo López Foods, the FDA did an on-site inspection and found the same strain of Listeria responsible for the outbreak on a container where cheese is stored before packaging.   The FDA reported (January 6, 2024) that WGS of a strain of Listeria monocytogenes from an environmental sample and a sample from cotija cheese match the outbreak strain circulating since 2014. The discovery allowed investigators to link the brands to the decade-old outbreak.   The CDC reported that of the 22 people they interviewed, 16 (73%) reported eating queso fresco, cotija, or other similar cheeses. Three of the interviewed people reported Don Francisco brand queso fresco or cotija.   On May 14, 2021, the CDC colluded its investigation of Listeria in soft cheese and reported that a Listeria Outbreak led to Queso Fresco Made by El Abuelito Cheese Inc., the source of the Listeria was Hispanic style soft cheeses. It involved 13 cases, 12 hospitalizations, and 1 death.

The current outbreak

By February 6, 2024, Rizo Lopex Foods had recalled more than 60 soft cheeses, yogurt, and sour cream sold under the brands of Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Dos Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 Whole Foods Market. According to the CDC, the recalled products were distributed nationwide at stores and retail deli counters, including El Super, Cardenas Market, Northgate Gonzalez, Superior Groceries, El Rancho, Vallarta, Food City, La Michoacana, and Numero Uno Markets.   The recalled products were sold nationwide. They include cheese, yogurt, and sour cream sold under the brand names Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Dos Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 Whole Foods Market, according to the CDC. The CDC continues to investigate the outbreak.

The ripple effect

A ripple effect ensued as a result of the Rizo Lopez recall. Numerous companies in the US and some in Canada created products made with dairy products from Rizo Lopez Foods.

BrightFarms recalled Southwest Chipotle salad kits. The product was only sold to retailers in DE, MD, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, VT, VA, and DC.

Ready Pac Foods, Inc Ready Pac Bistro Fresh Mex Chopped Kit sold to WinCo stores in AZ and CA; Ready Pac Bistro Queso Crunch Salad Kit sold to Costco stores in CA, NV, HI. Upon being notified of the expanded recall on February 7, 2024, Ready Pac investigated and determined that some kits may be impacted. 15,751 cases were manufactured by Ready Pac Foods between December 2023 and February 2024 and distributed to the retailers. Ready Pac has ceased all sales and distribution of the impacted products, and any products in inventory will be removed and destroyed per FDA guidelines.

Fresh Express recalled two salad kits with condiment packs that contained the recalled cheese. Marketside Southwest Chopped Kit sold at retailers in AL, FL, and GA; Fresh Express Salsa! Ensalada Salad Kit sold at retailers in CA, ID, UT, and WA.

Dole Fresh Vegetables recalled Dole Chopped Kit Avocado Ranch, Dole Chop Kit Avocado Ranch (Chop Kit Ranch A L’Avocat), Dole Premium Kit Southwest Salad, Dole Cajun Ranch Chopped Kit, Dole Premium Kit Endless Summer, Dole Supreme Kit Southwest Salad (Supreme Kit Salade Du Sud-Ouest), President’s Choice Southwest Salad Kit (Sud-Ouest Kit de Salade), and Marketside Chopped Salad Kit Bacon Ranch Crunch. Recalled salad items were sold in the states of AL, CA, CT, FL, GA, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NV, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, UT, VA, WA, and WI. Additionally, these salads were distributed in the following Canadian provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec. Albertsons Companies recalled five Ready Meals and store-made taco kits that were available for purchase at the following banner stores: Albertsons, Carrs-Safeway, Eagle, Lucky, Pavilions, Randalls, Safeway, Shaw’s, Star Market, Tom Thumb, and Vons in AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, ID, LA, ME, MA, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, ND, OR, RI, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, and WY. The select meals and kits contain a recalled cheese ingredient from Rizo-López Foods.

President’s Choice and Taylor Fresh Canada Farms Mexican-style street corn salad kits recalled salad kits sold nationwide in Canada under the brands Taylor Farm and President’s Choice. The recall in the US triggered this recall.

Fresh Creative Foods, a division of Reser’s Fine Foods, Inc., recalled cremas, everything sauces, cilantro cotija dressing, poblano Caesar dressing, cilantro dressing, and one taco kit produced with a cheese ingredient supplied by Rizo Foods. The dressings and kits were distributed to retail outlets, including Costco, H-E-B, Trader Joe’s, and Albertson’s.

Trader Joe’s of Monrovia, CA, recalled products containing cotija cheese. The recalled products were sold in Trader Joe’s stores nationwide. Recalled products include all lots of the following products: (i) Trader Joe’s Chicken Enchiladas Verde; (ii) Trader Joe’s Cilantro Salad Dressing; (iii) Trader Joe’s Elote Chopped Salad Kit; and (iv) Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad.

Simply Fresh LLC , Buena Park, CA, recalled Rojo’s Black Bean 6 Layer Dip 2-20oz Club Pack due to the Rizo Lopez Foods recall of cotija cheese. The product was sold only at Costco. 7,350 cases were distributed to Costco stores in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Utah.

Amazon kitchen, recalled Ready to Eat (RTE) poultry burrito items produced with cotija cheese. CHICKEN CHILE VERDE burrito with rice, black beans & Monterey Jack because they contain recalled dairy products.

Fresh & Ready Foods recalled four torta sandwiches that contain cotija cheese which were sold in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah.

Perfect Bite Co. recalled its MEXICAN STYLE STREET CORN BITE containing Cotija Cheese. The recalled MEXICAN STYLE STREET CORN BITES were distributed in Costco warehouses in California and Hawaii.

Braga Fresh recalled a limited quantity of Marketside Bacon Ranch Crunch Chopped Salad Kits containing the recalled Rizo Lopez cheese. The recalled product, Marketside Bacon Ranch Crunch Chopped Salad Kits, was distributed to several Walmart stores in California and Nevada. All recalled products have been removed from store shelves and inventory. No illnesses associated with this recall have been reported to date.

Taylor Fresh Foods recalled the Marketside Bacon Ranch Crunch Salad Kit made with ingredient packets containing cheese as part of the expanded recall from Rizo-López Foods, Inc. Taylor Fresh Foods has notified the retailer to remove the recalled kit from store shelves and all inventories.

Save Mart Companies has recalled Chicken Street Taco Kits sold in Save Mart, Lucky, and Lucky California store service delis since they include a cup of crema sauce containing cotija cheese produced and recalled by Rizo-Lopez Foods.

Rizo-López Foods and Fresh Creations Foods issued a recall of all Chicken Street Taco Meal Kit Units due to the potential contamination of Listeria monocytogenes. The select meals and kits include crema cups containing a recalled cheese ingredient. The product was sold in Sprouts stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. No illnesses have been reported to date.

MG Foods recalled a Ham & Cotija Torta Sandwich on Telera Roll sold in Florida. This voluntary recall was initiated due to the Rizo Lopez Foods recall of cotija cheese due to Listeria monocytogenes and associated with an outbreak the FDA is investigating. MG Foods used this cheese to make the recalled product distributed between 2/2/24 and 2/9/24 and sold via vending machines and grab-and-go retail markets within business locations exclusively in Florida. To date, no illnesses have been reported related to this specific product.


Soft Hispanic-style cheeses made fresh with pasteurized milk are a known hazard of outbreaks from Listeria. Hispanic soft cheeses can be contaminated with L. monocytogenes unless stringent hygienic controls are implemented and the processing environment is monitored for contamination.   The FDA updated the recalled products in the current outbreak, and there are now ~ 50 recalled products listed by the FDA. We expect more products to be added to the list.   While there are currently 26 known people sick with the outbreak of Listeria, the CDC warned that the actual number of sick people from the outbreak is likely higher than the number reported because some people could have recovered without needing medical care or testing positive for Listeria.   Because the Rizo Lopez products were used in many other products, there was a huge ripple effect of the recall involving many different products. It is expected that more products will be recalled soon. Therefore, producers of ingredients embedded in other products must pay special attention to pathogen prevention.

No comments

Leave a Reply