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Source of listeria linked to Wisconsin cheese unknown

WATERLOO, Wis. – Inspectors haven't yet determined the source of a Midwest listeria outbreak linked to a Wisconsin cheesemaker, the company's president said.

Five people in four states — two in Minnesota and one each in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio — were diagnosed as having listeriosis from May 20 through June 17, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. One of the Minnesota residents died, and one of the other sickened people miscarried. The other three were hospitalized.

All five people, who ranged in age from 31 to 67 years old, said they had eaten soft cheese before they got sick, and three of them said they had eaten one of three cheeses produced by Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Co., of Waterloo, that have since been recalled.

Laboratory tests conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on samples of the cheeses from two retail stores indicated the presence of listeria bacterium, the Journal Sentinel reported. Further test results are pending.

"While we are still uncertain of the source of the contamination, our sympathy goes out to the affected families," said George Crave, president.

The FDA is conducting an inspection of the company's processing facility near Waterloo in coordination with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and is working closely with the CDC to determine the cause of the contamination.

The recalled cheeses — Les Frères, Petit Frère and Petit Frère with Truffles — were distributed nationwide through dozens of retail and food service outlets, including Whole Foods. The cheeses have won awards from the American Cheese Society, a leading competition for American-made cheeses, the newspaper reported.

The Crave Brothers dairy farm, which is operated by four brothers, has showcased Wisconsin agriculture in the past, hosting Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, an annual event that attracts about 80,000 people, in 2010.

Crave Brothers said it learned about the contamination on July 1 from the FDA and state agriculture officials. Production and distribution of the three recalled cheeses linked to the illness ceased, Crave said.

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