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Raw milk factory owner behind fatal outbreak sentenced to probation



Raw milk factory owner behind fatal outbreak sentenced to probation

A man who owned a raw milk farm behind the deaths of two people has been sentenced to probation.

Judge Therese Wiley Dancks in New York sentenced Johannes Vulto on July 9 to three years’ probation, a $100,000 fine and 240 hours of community service. Vulto and his company pleaded guilty in March to causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce, a felony, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York said in a news release.

Vulto’s raw milk cheese was found to be the source of Listeria monocytogenes, which sickened eight people, two of whom died in 2016. He could have been sentenced to up to a year in prison. Under a plea deal, he agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.

According to court documents, Vulto began producing and shipping raw milk cheese from its cheese factory in Walton in 2012.

The Food and Drug Administration reported that swabs taken from the creamery repeatedly tested positive for listeria species between July 2014 and February 2017, according to Vulto’s plea agreement. Prosecutors said raw milk cheese is 112 times more likely to cause listeriosis than pasteurized cheese.

In 2018, the federal court closed the dairy plant in Walton, NY. Judge Sannes permanently barred Vulto Creamery LLC and its owner, Vulto, from any further production or distribution of food.

Court documents show that in the aftermath of the deadly outbreak, federal officials concluded that Vulto lacked the knowledge and understanding to make corrections and comply with regulatory requirements. Vulto admitted that there was a lot he didn’t understand, including the meaning of environmental samples, positive results or the need for investigation into the cause. He offered only “several minor corrective actions.”

“L. mono is a serious health threat that can be fatal,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Consumers should be confident that the food they buy is safe, and we will continue to work with the FDA to take action against manufacturers who engage in substandard practices.”

At the request of the FDA, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed for a permanent injunction on March 19, 2018 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. The judge signed the order on March 30 and DOJ announced the action in April. 2.

“The presence of this dangerous bacteria in a cheese factory in Upstate New York is of great concern,” said Grant C. Jaquith, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York. “We will continue to use all available tools to ensure that our food supply is safe and that violations of laws protecting public health are addressed.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Vulto Creamery’s soft raw milk cheese was responsible for the only outbreak of listeriosis from such a product in the U.S. in multiple states.

Five of the eight sick people in the outbreak were New York residents. A Florida resident became ill after eating the cheese while visiting New York. The outbreak involved one resident in Connecticut and Vermont, and those were the two who died.

The recalls began when Vulto Creamery was identified as the source of the listeriosis outbreak. At the urging of the FDA, Vulto first agreed to recall its Ouleout cheese on March 3, 2017. Four days later, on March 7, 2017, Vulto expanded the recall to include all soft and semi-soft cheese. After further consultation with the FDA, all Vulto cheese products were added to the recall on March 11, 2017. On March 17, 2017, the FDA further agreed to, and did, destroy all cheese in its inventory or that had been returned in the recall. April 5, 2017.

Court documents shed new light on the investigation into the outbreak, including the many violations the FDA found during its March 2017 inspection of the Vulto Creamery.

Researchers found that Vulto employees did not wash their forearms and upper arms before immersing them in whey to stir and break up the processed cheese curds. One of those employees had multiple cuts and abrasions on his arms. Black mold was also found in various places in the cheese factory.

Other violations found by the FDA included:

  • Failure to produce and store food under the conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for microorganism growth and contamination.
  • Ouleout raw milk cheese from two different batches was analyzed and found positive for L. mono.
  • Failure to conduct microbial testing where necessary to identify sanitation deficiencies and potential food contamination, as required.
  • Vulto testing data shows that they collected environmental samples only 20 times between July 28, 2014 and February 19, 2017, and that 54 of the 198 swabs were taken at various locations throughout the production facility, including food and non-food contact surfaces . , tested positive for Listeria.
  • Vulto did not conduct an investigation to identify the species of Listeria and did not recognize the source or point of entry/housing into the facility.
  • In addition, Vulto did not perform microbial testing on finished products after positive Listeria was found on food contact surfaces to confirm that the products were not contaminated with the organism detected by the environmental testing program.
  • Failure to follow a procedure for cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils that has been demonstrated to provide adequate treatment.
  • Vulto repeatedly found Listeria throughout the facility, even after re-cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Failure to store cleaned and disinfected portable equipment in a location and in a manner that protects food contact surfaces from contamination.
  • Clean, sanitized wooden planks used to store RTE cheeses were stored in the facility’s attic, with insulation and other debris visible.
  • Failure to take the necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food and surfaces that come into contact with food with micro-organisms and foreign substances.
  • Wood planks used for aging are not properly cleaned and disinfected. Their uneven surfaces allow moisture and dirt to accumulate and provide a potential hiding place for dirt and microorganisms. These wooden planks are supplied directly with Vultro ripening RTE cheese and are used for other cheese products.
  • The inability to construct the installation to prevent drips and condensation from contaminating food and food contact surfaces as required. The condensation water dripped emphatically from the horizontal stainless steel cheese press beam directly onto the drain table below, on which molded cheese products are placed to drain the whey. Dripping condensate in the processing environment can potentially facilitate the movement of pathogens and cause product contamination.
  • The failure to maintain physical facilities in sufficient repair and sanitation to prevent food from being adulterated as required. For example, there was heavy rust formation in several places, including on white-painted vertical support beams on which cheese presses stood. These bars are located directly above a discharge table, and rust flakes are located on the top surface of the discharge table, where cheese molds are drained. The rust was also on a painted white metal storage shelf used to store cheese molds, other tools and utensils, as well as on a stainless steel storage shelf used to store boxes of packaged finished cheese products. There was also a significant accumulation of black mold in multiple locations throughout the facility, including the cement walls in the production area and the laundry room, where cleaning brushes and storage racks come into direct contact. The concrete floors in the production and cheese ripening areas were cracked and pitted, with moisture accumulating in the cracks and pits.
  • Failure to operate fans and other air blowing equipment in a manner that minimizes the potential for contamination of food and food contact surfaces. An attic fan, which was used to dry wooden planks used for ripening cheese after the planks had been cleaned and disinfected, had dirt and dust building up on the rotating arms and front.
  • Failure to take adequate measures to keep pests out of the processing areas and to protect against food contamination by pests. In particular, a long piece of sticky fly tape, densely populated with dead insects, was observed hanging directly above exposed, uncovered RTE cheeses in the defendants’ cheese maturing area.

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