Cheesemaker Admits Responsibility For Listeria Outbreak Resulting In 2 Deaths And 8 Hospitalizations

A former cheese producer in New York has admitted guilt for manufacturing raw milk products that were connected to an outbreak of listeria. This outbreak led to two deaths and eight hospitalizations, according to authorities.

Johannes Vulto and his company, Vulto Creamery LLC, admitted guilt to a misdemeanor charge of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The plea came after an investigation revealed that a listeriosis outbreak between 2016 and 2017 was traced back to cheese produced in Vulto’s factory. The Department of Justice has released a statement confirming the connection.

The Department of Justice stated that Vulto was responsible for overseeing operations at the Vulto Creamery manufacturing facility in Walton, New York. This included the management of sanitation and environmental monitoring. Vulto and Vulto Creamery admitted to shipping adulterated cheese across state lines between December 2014 and March 2017.

According to the plea agreement, environmental swabs conducted at the Vulto Creamery facility between July 2014 and February 2017 consistently yielded positive results for Listeria species.

In March 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered that Vulto Creamery’s cheese was linked to an outbreak of listeriosis, a serious illness caused by L. monocytogenes, a harmful species within the Listeria family. As a result, Vulto took immediate action by shutting down their creamery facility and initially issuing a partial recall. However, due to the severity of the situation, the recall was later expanded to a full recall within a few weeks.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight people were hospitalized and two deaths occurred as a result of the listeriosis outbreak caused by sanitation issues.

“It is of utmost importance for American consumers to have confidence in the safety of the food they purchase,” emphasized Brian Boynton, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and leader of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. He further added, “Our department remains committed to collaborating with our law enforcement counterparts in holding accountable those food manufacturers who irresponsibly sell products that are dangerously contaminated.”

Listeriosis is a potentially life-threatening illness that can have severe consequences, especially for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman for the Northern District of New York emphasized the importance of holding the defendant and his business accountable for their unsafe practices, which resulted in illness and death among consumers. She referred to this tragedy as entirely preventable and highlighted the commitment of law enforcement and regulatory partners to bring justice to those who endanger the public with unsafe and unsanitary products and facilities.

Vulto and Vulto Creamery have pleaded guilty in Syracuse, New York. The court is expected to set a sentencing date at a later time.

According to Special Agent in Charge Fernando McMillan of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations New York Field Office, American consumers depend on the FDA to ensure the safety and quality of their food. In instances where companies and individuals prioritize their own interests over public safety by producing harmful food, it is crucial that they face legal consequences.

The case was investigated by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

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