Investigators looking for the source of bacterial contamination blamed for at least 29 deaths and stillbirths began dismantling equipment at a cheese factory yesterday.
The investigators were focusing on the pasteurization process at the Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. factory in Artesia, Calif., and on the handling and wrapping of the cheese, said Hans Van Nes, deputy director of the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
"They'll be taking it apart," said Stuart Richardson, food and drug branch chief for California's Department of Health Services. "They'll probably do some product samples as well as surface samples of the equipment to see if the organism is there."
The Listeria monocytogenes bacteria has been found in opened and unopened packages of Jalisco cheese, although authorities say they are not yet sure if the contamination occurred during the cheese-making process or if the milk used to make the cheese had been contaminated earlier.
An additional death and stillbirth in California, as well as cases of the listeriosis in Oregon and Colorado, were reported by hospitals and local officials, but ties to the contaminated cheese remained unconfirmed.
Richardson said his department expanded its "remove from sale" order Friday to all of California. It now covers all 44 Jalisco-made cheese products marketed under the Jalisco, Jiminez, La Vaquita and Guadalajara labels.
The FDA has said the cheese is sold in California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Ohio. Jalisco officials said it was also sold in Florida, while grocers reported it has been sold in Nevada too.
Illinois ordered a recall Friday, and warnings to consumers were issued in New York and New Mexico. The cheese also was being removed from store shelves in Oregon, where a Salem woman reported becoming ill after eating it.
The federal Centers for Disease Control blamed the cheese for 87 cases of listeriosis in Los Angeles and Orange counties.