Unlicensed cheese-maker ordered to halt operations
By RICK OLIVO Staff Writer
The Daily Press
Monday, June 26th, 2006
Cheese curds infected with the Campylobacter bacteria are now being blamed for over 100 suspected cases of illness in places as far away as Oregon.
The contaminated cheese curds were manufactured by an unlicensed Highbridge cheese-maker using unpasteurized milk, says the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.
Wesley Lindquist was ordered to cease the production of curds and any other dairy products following the outbreak, which apparently began shortly after Memorial Day when a number of visitors were in the Ashland area for graduations and other events. Over 40 confirmed cases of illness have been identified as coming from the tainted curds, and many others from different areas of the state and even other states have also become ill.
According to Ashland County Health Officer Terry Kramolis, DNA fingerprint tests confirmed that the illness had a common Campylobacter source. Speaking at a meeting of the Ashland County Health Committee this week, Kramolis said there are now a total of 106 suspected Campylobacter cases related to the curds nationwide. She expected the total number of confirmed illnesses caused by the bacteria to rise to 75 by next week.
Kramolis said the cheese curds had been sold at “numerous establishments” and that Lindquist had sold the product for some 35 years, but had no license to produce the product, nor was it properly marked. She said a state agriculture inspector had told her it would not have passed inspection requirements.
Campylobacter bacteria can cause nausea, bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal cramping and occasional vomiting. On rare occasions, the illness has more severe complications such as temporary arthritis or paralysis, generally after the initial symptoms have disappeared. The illness is not generally contagious person-to-person, but could potentially be spread by persons working in food service or at a daycare facility who did not use good hand-washing practices.
Health officials are advising that anyone who may have come down with the illness contact their family physician, and if any samples of the product remain, to bring them to the Ashland County Health Department so that testing can be done.
Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy said he has been in contact with a regulation compliance inspector for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection about the matter. He said manufacturing dairy products without a license is in violation of state law, but that he was awaiting receipt of the report from the investigator before deciding if a criminal action was warranted.