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Swiss Dairy Owner Faces Criminal Charges in Fatal Listeria Outbreak

Switzerland 28.03.2024
Source: The DairyNews
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The owner of a Swiss dairy company is under criminal scrutiny following a lethal Listeria outbreak linked to the facility.
The public prosecutor's office in Schwyz has announced the conclusion of a criminal investigation initiated in August 2020 against the owner of Käserei Vogel, a cheese factory that ceased operations in 2020.

Charges have been filed in 20 instances, including allegations of negligent homicide, negligent bodily harm, and violations of the Food Act. However, proceedings have been terminated in 10 cases where Listeria infection did not result in health complications or due to the absence of criminal complaints from victims or their families. Additionally, in four cases, the identities of the affected individuals were unknown.

Authorities contend that the company failed to adequately fulfill its food safety obligations under the law. Consequently, the prosecutor's office has sought a conditional prison sentence and fine for the dairy owner, although a trial date has yet to be scheduled.

Background of the Incident:
The protracted Listeria outbreak in Switzerland claimed the lives of 10 individuals and was linked to pasteurized cheese products, with 34 laboratory-confirmed cases reported. Investigations implicated Käserei Vogel dairy in the outbreak.

Following a surge in listeriosis cases in 2018, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health initiated an investigation. However, the suspected food source and mode of transmission remained elusive.

Another spike in infections occurred in early 2020. Subsequently, in April 2020, Käserei Vogel notified the cantonal laboratory of the detection of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of soft brie cheese made from pasteurized milk. Whole-genome sequencing confirmed a match between the cheese isolate and the outbreak strain.

Environmental sampling conducted at Käserei Vogel's production site revealed Listeria monocytogenes contamination in 11 out of 50 samples, with five sequenced isolates corresponding to the outbreak strain. Sanitation deficiencies and persistent environmental contamination were identified throughout the facility.

As a precautionary measure, 26 products, including brie, sheep and goat cheese, and organic cheeses, were recalled in May 2020, with production halted. The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) issued a public advisory, urging consumers to refrain from consuming the affected products.