There might be a reason Nicaragua and Honduras aren't known for their fine cheeses. And no one seems more determined to make sure the Central American nations continue to hold the dubious title of "Countries I Probably Won't Purchase Cheese From" than Francisca Josefina Lopez and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez.
The couple, both from Honduras, were busted in Miami on Monday for illegally selling diseased cheese from Nicaragua to unsuspecting vendors. That cheese -- 170,000 pounds of it -- was contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as staph, and at least one of the four shipments hadn't been pasteurized. So, in other words, if the staph doesn't kill you, the potentially vicious bacteria in the cheese might.
The contaminated cheese was sold by the Lopez's company, Lacteos Factory, to various vendors in Florida, California, New York and, yes, Texas. In an even cheerier twist, the couple apparently knew the cheese was contaminated, as the Miami New Times reports that a customer tested the product and returned it after finding it full of staph. The couple resold the cheese anyway.
And although the Lopez duo made $322,000 off the sale of the cheese, most of that revenue will likely go to legal fees, as they now face at least five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for illegally importing and selling the product.
The FDA has issued a warning to all potential buyers in Florida, California, New York and Texas which describes the cheese's packaging, the brands to watch out for and who to contact in case you locate any of the contaminated cheese. It also contains a description of how miserable your life will be if you happen to contract the cheese-born staph:
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DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
FDA Florida District 555 Winderley Place, Suite 200 Maitland, Florida 32751 Telephone: 407-475-4700 FAX: 407-475-4768
Nationwide Consumer Warning:
Contaminated Cheese The Food and Drug Administration is alerting consumers not to purchase or consume Naturally Aged White Cheese, Dry Cheese, or Hard Dry Cheese manufactured by Lacteos Nueva Guinea, Empalme El Verdun Nueva Guinea Raas, Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua. Products were imported and distributed by The Lacteos Factory, Miami, FL 33142. The Lacteos Factory, Miami, FL 33142 is believed to have distributed the cheese products to retail stores in Florida, Texas, California, and New York, between January 2010 and April 2010 in 1 lb clear plastic vacuum bags. The product labeling does not contain a product code or expiration date. FDA laboratory analysis has confirmed the products to be adulterated with Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). Staph infections can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, headache and muscle cramping. The greatest health risk is to the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems. No illnesses are known to be associated with the products at this time. Retail grocery stores are asked to check and remove any products labeled as The Lacteos Factory or Lacteos Nueva Guinea White, Dry, or Hard Cheese products from their inventory. Consumers are advised to dispose of any products of this type in their possession. If they are experiencing adverse health problems from the consumption of these products, they should promptly contact a physician. FDA requests consumers and physicians to report adverse events to FDA's MEDWATCH 1-800-332-1088.