2 stricken with Listeria in France, unpasteurized cheese recalled

The Puillet cheese factory, located in Roanne, France withdrew its products from sale after detection of Listeria monocytogenes. Two people from the retirement home of Belmont-de-la-Loire have been infected.

camembert_franceListeria has been detected in Camembert cheese made from cow’s milk from a local dairy.

The presence of bacteria was detected after 2 people from the retirement home of Belmont-de-la-Loire, returned after a meal on June 23, 2016. The investigation by the DDPP Loire (Department for Protection of Populations) revealed that the infection had come from cheese consumed during the meal.

The manager of the dairy remains dubious: “We do not know where it comes from or how it could be contaminated. It’s been over 20 years since we started (the business) and it never happened before. It is really hurting our business.”

Listeria lessons from Gossip Girl Blair Waldorf

Last night while watching the Thanksgiving episode of Gossip Girl, queen of the Upper East Side Blair Waldorf was up to another one of her schemes. In an attempt to prove her mother is pregnant, Blair offers her food and drink pregnant women should avoid: champagne and soft cheeses.

Over Thanksgiving dinner she coyly tempts,

“Mother, here, try some camembert, it’s from Artisanal!”

When her mother refuses, Blair concedes she is pregnant.

Blair’s mother turns out not to be pregnant, and Blair never explains why pregnant women should avoid camembert. Camembert is a soft cheese, traditionally made from unpasteurized cow’s milk (although pasteurized forms exist). Soft cheeses should be avoided during pregnancy as they have been identified as sources of listeria which can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

Amy has written more about what to avoid during pregnancy, here.

Confused Moms to Be

When I was pregnant with Sorenne in the summer of 2008, we spent a month in Canada while the Maple Leaf Listeria outbreak was, in retrospect, percolating in cold-cuts that were being consumed across the country.

If I hadn’t been informed by my food safety guru husband, I could have very easily consumed ready-to-eat deli meat on our car trip north, potentially putting my baby at risk. Sorenne turned out healthy, huge and wonderful. And we are thankful every day.

Several of my former students, friends, and family members are pregnant right now, and somehow I’ve become the expert on food safety during pregnancy. These women have expressed frustration and confusion about the conflicting information they read and receive from their doctors regarding what they can and cannot eat during pregnancy. While I generally think moderation and eliminating stress are priorities, there are a few food safety concerns that are definitely worth considering. I’ve already written on “What you can and cannot eat during pregnancy,” but in light of major outbreaks (and this is barfblog, of the 4 Rs), the information bears repeating.

Pregnant women should avoid:

       ready to eat refrigerated foods such as deli meats, smoked fish, hot dogs, sausages, pâté, and the like. If the food is shelf-stable (canned), it should be ok. Unfortunately, it was impossible to find canned pâté in Manhattan, KS during my pregnancy – but now it’s available at Hyvee.

       soft-serve ice-cream which has been suspected as a listeria risk

       soft cheeses (brie, camembert – pasteurized or not) and we are uncertain about blue-veined cheeses (I toasted or melted my cheese to alleviate my fears. Now this seems laughable since I’m not eating any dairy while I breastfeed.)

       and sprouts because they have been identified as a source of listeria and other pathogens.

Listeria is one of the main food safety concerns during pregnancy because it causes a high rate of miscarriage and stillbirths.

For further reading, consult the Bad bug book, http://www.foodsafety.gov/~mow/chap6.html and the CDC’s excellent site http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/pregnancy_gateway/infection_list.htm#protect


Camembert Wars: if this is progress, I’ll take mine pasteurized

The AFP is reporting today that “real” camembert makers can rejoice. In addition to reducing the geographic boundaries of the camembert region, now the only camembert makers that will be recognized with the prestigious AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) label will:

–    use only raw milk;
–    have at least half of the cows providing the milk from Normandy origin; and,
–    ensure that their cows graze on Normandy pastures for at least 6 months of the year and fed hay the remainder of the time.

The grazing restrictions are new to the AOC conditions. I find them particularly surprising as research has shown that grass-fed or not, all cows can carry E. coli O157:H7.

The “real camembert” supporters apparently found the decision to be “undeniable progress.” Lactalis and Isigny-Sainte-Mère, two large companies that previously produced more than 80% of AOC Camembert, decided last year to begin heat-treating their milk as a safety measure.

Francophiles, can read today’s original story for themselves. The French clearly articulate that the raw milk camembert has a velvety taste compared to the pasteurized version, but that the traditional methods are more onerous because they require various testing measures to avoid pathogens such as listeria. According to my favorite food safety advisor, you cannot test your way to safe food. The new and improved camembert will have enhanced risks.

Making Love or Making Camembert

In an interview for CNN yesterday, the mayor of Saint-Loup de Fribois, France, Philippe Meslon said, "A camembert not made out of raw milk is like making love without sex.” This story, “France milks cheese for all its worth,” tracks the camembert business in Normandy and the struggle to earn the coveted Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée.

While I totally appreciate the tradition involved in making lait cru camembert (and personally love the taste), I still applaud the largest cheesemakers such as Lactalis and Isigny Sainte-Mère for choosing to heat-treat their milk. That safety measure meant that they consequently lost their AOC (“real camembert”) label, but it also meant significantly reducing the risks for their many consumers.

The mayor of Saint-Loup also says a Frenchman is “someone who cultivates with modern evolution his past. It’s someone who protects moral values, cultural values and artistic values, and when I say cultural values I would include camembert." That’s a nicely ambivalent statement supporting a staple of his region’s economy.

Normand cheesemaker, François Durand has 40 cows and the AOC label. He proudly claims that making cheese is about not cutting corners. "You have to have the passion. Yes it’s difficult because it means a lot of work. We make it all by hand.”

With recent changes in the large “industrial” cheeses, however, some camembert makers have been driven out of business. Michel Delorme says the new and stricter rules combined with his age made him stop producing handmade camembert. Although Durand misses his cheese, he’s kept some souvenirs such as his milk cans to remember his cheesemaking days.

Passion is important and nostalgia is nice, but the hundreds of years of tradition that go into camembert making in France need to include food safety practices to protect both French culture and consumers.