The Tulare County Public Health Officer, Dr. Karen Haught, is warning residents about eating Latin American-style cheese from unlicensed cheese makers who may be selling their product door-to-door. These products may be contaminated.

Soft cheese/Tulare County Public Health Department
Soft cheese/Tulare County Public Health Department

At issue are variations of cheese 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 bacteria. Residents are being strongly urged to avoid buying cheese at swap meets or from door-to-door vendors.

“With unlicensed food producers, you cannot be sure that products are being made in sanitary conditions, or that foods are being properly refrigerated during transportation,” said Dr. Haught. “These products can be dangerous to your health and safety, and to the health and safety of your loved ones.”

The warning is being issued after a cluster of residents recently became ill from Salmonella. During the investigation, it was found that the likely source of the infection was cheese purchased from an unlicensed vendor in Woodlake selling cheeses door-to-door. Left-over cheese from this purchase has been tested and revealed Salmonella.

Cheese from unlicensed or door-to-door vendors should be discarded immediately. According to public health, “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 diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, swollen neck glands, blood stream infection, and miscarriage or illness to unborn babies.”

Here are some tips from county public health:

  • Avoid dairy products with missing or incomplete labels. Labels should provide safe handling and storage information, a list of ingredients, including “pasteurized milk,” and identify the manufacturer responsible for the product.
  • Cheese products should be factory sealed and sold out of a permitted permanent food facility like a supermarket.
  • Buy cheese from the refrigerated section of the market.
  • Do not purchase cheese from an unlicensed manufacturer, unlicensed vendors at swap meets, door-to-door vendors, or on the street.