Sep. 21, 2012 at 5:52 PM ET
Update, Sept. 27: At least 18 people in 13 states have been sickened by listeria infections linked to ricotta salata cheese imported from Italy. All 18 victims have been hospitalized and one miscarriage has been reported.
The Italian maker of ricotta salata cheese tied to listeria infections that have sickened 15 people in the U.S. -- including as many as three who died -- has been placed on import alert, health officials said Friday.
Products from Fattorie Chiarappa S.R.L of Conversano, Italy, will be denied admission into the U.S. unless the importer proves that that the cheese is not contaminated with the potentially deadly listeria monocytogenes bacterium, Food and Drug Administration officials said.
People in 12 states and Washington, D.C., have been infected with the outbreak strain of listeria tied to contaminated Marte brand Fresolina ricotta salata cheese. All 15 confirmed victims have been hospitalized.
Forever Cheese Inc. of Long Island, N.Y., recalled one lot of the cheese, or about 4,800 pounds, on Sept. 10.
However, the recall has expanded now to include all lots and all product codes of the Marte Brand Frescolina ricotta salata cheese. Forever Cheese also has stopped importing cheese from Fattorie Ciarappa S.R.L. and has recalled two other varieties of cheese, Marte brand roasted ricotta and hard ricotta salata.
The cheese may also have been referred to as Ricotta Frescolina Marte Tipo Toscanella or Ricotta Salata Soft Lot (T9425) as it was being distributed.
Ricotta salata is a salty white cheese made form pasteurized sheep’s milk. It is often served crumbled or grated as an ingredient in salads, pastas or other dishes. It is not the same as the ricotta cheese used for dishes such as lasagna and sold in plastic tubs at grocery stores.
Consumers who bought the potentially contaminated cheese are advised to not eat it and to discard any remaining cheese, health officials said.
The outbreak sickened three people in Maryland and one person each in the following states or districts: California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington state and the District of Columbia.
Illnesses were reported from March 28 and Aug. 30. Three deaths have been reported in connection with the outbreak. Listeriosis contributed to deaths in Nebraska and New York, but did not contribute to a death in Minnesota, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Listeria can cause life-threatening infections that primarily affect pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and diarrhea. It can take up to two months after eating contaminated food for the symptoms to appear.