Listeria-laden cheese hospitalized 38, killed 15 in Quebec last fall; producers want compensation

Here is what is lost in the gushing about raw-milk cheeses and many other forms of food pornography:

The fall 2008 outbreak of listeria in cheese in Quebec led to 38 hospitalizations, of which 13 were pregnant and gave birth prematurely. Two adults died and there were 13 perinatal deaths.

But, the discussion in Montreal over the past two days is about the fate of small cheese producers, who are apparently giving up.

Ever since last year’s listeriosis outbreak, when provincial inspectors seized tonnes of Quebec cheeses believed to have been cross-contaminated by the listeria bacterium, Fromagerie Lehmann and other raw-milk cheese producers were visited constantly by officials on the lookout for the listeria bacterium.

Like 20 or so others, Lehmann finally gave up on raw-milk cheese altogether.

By some estimates, only 10 Quebec raw-milk cheeses remain. The others now are made with milk that’s been heated to kill unwanted bacteria – and, some say, the flavours of the meadow and the changing seasons.

On Monday, the provincial ombudsman concluded the Quebec government was ill-prepared to handle the outbreak of listeria contamination in some cheese products last summer, but it was right to order a mass recall of the cheeses.