Mexican cheeses may be harmful

LOS ANGELES - County health officials warned the public Tuesday not to purchase or consume Mexican or Latin American-style soft cheese and sour cream purchased from unlicensed manufacturers or vendors.The popular cheeses, including queso fresco, panela, queso seco, asadero, queso Oaxaca, queso Cotija and crema, could contain harmful bacteria if purchased from anywhere other than the refrigerated section of a market, officials said. "With unlicensed dairy products, you cannot be sure of what you're getting," said Jonathan Fielding, director of publish health, 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." Unpasteurized milk and cheese contain raw milk that has not been properly heated to kill harmful bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. The bacteria may cause miscarriage, illness to unborn babies, diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, swollen neck glands, and blood infections, officials said. Fielding said his office was working with state agencies and the County District Attorney's office to stop the illegal sale of these cheeses. Officials offered the following tips to purchase safe cheese: 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. Keep the cheese refrigerated at 41 degrees or below. Wrap the cheese in plastic after each use. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food. Prevent cross contamination by using different utensils when you cut the cheese. Anyone who may have become sick from consuming Latin American cheese should call their doctor and Public Health at (888) 397-3993. Anyone who suspects illegal cheese manufacturing or sales should call Public Health's Food and Milk Program at (626) 430-5400.

********** Published: August 21, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 18