Former cheesemaker pleads guilty in listeria outbreak that killed two


A former cheese manufacturer and the company he owned pleaded guilty on Tuesday to misdemeanor charges related to a 2016-2017 outbreak of listeria that hospitalized eight people and killed two.

Johannes Vulto and Vulto Creamery of Walton, New York, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce between December 2014 and March 2017, the Department of Justice announced.

Vulto Creamery’s soft raw cheese was behind the sole multistate outbreak of listeriosis in 2017, resulting of a nationwide recall of the raw milk cheeses sold by the company, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

FDA investigators found workers at the creamery did not wash their arms before using them to stir and break up cheese curds, including one employee with multiple cuts and abrasions on his arms. Swabs of Vulto’s creamery repeatedly tested positive for the bacteria over the three-year period.

This investigation and prosecution holds accountable the defendant and his business who through unsafe practices caused illness and death to consumers in an entirely preventable tragedy,” U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman for the Northern District of New York stated in a statement.

A sentencing date will be set by a magistrate judge in Syracuse, New York, the Justice Department said.

The creamery was shut down in 2017 by a federal court, which barred Vulto and its owner from making or distributing food in the future.

Federal investigators are currently investigating another listeria outbreak tied to cheese and other dairy products sold by Modesto, Calif.-based Rizo-López Foods.

At least 26 people in 11 states have been stricken in the ongoing outbreak, with 23 hospitalized, according to the CDC. One person died in California in 2017, and another fatality occurred in Texas in 2020, the agency said in its latest update on the outbreak.



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