Former raw milk cheese maker pleads guilty to charges in connection with fatal listeria outbreak

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — A former producer of raw milk cheese pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges related to a deadly outbreak of listeria from 2016 to 2017, federal prosecutors said.

Johannes Vulto and his New York-based company Vulto Creamery LLC each pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce in federal court in Syracuse, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prosecutors say environmental swabs taken at the Vulto Creamery facility in Walton repeatedly tested positive for listeria bacteria between July 2014 and February 2017.

Vulto shut down the creamery and issued a full recall after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017 linked the creamery’s cheese to an outbreak of listeriosis that resulted in eight hospitalizations and two deaths — one in Vermont and another in Connecticut.

Listeriosis is a potentially life-threatening bacterial illness caused by consuming foods contaminated with listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women, newborns, elderly people and others with weakened immune systems are among the most at risk of severe illness.

Carla Freedman, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, said Vulto and his company’s unsafe practices led to an “entirely preventable tragedy” of illness and death.

“It is crucial that American consumers be able to trust that the foods they buy are safe to eat,” said Brian Boynton, who heads the civil division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Vulto’s lawyers didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday. He’ll be sentenced July 9.

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