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NY Cheese Producer Admits to Listeria Outbreak That Killed Two


A former cheese producer in Delaware County has pleaded guilty in connection to manufacturing raw milk products that were linked to an outbreak of listeria which resulted in two deaths and eight hospitalizations, authorities say.

In pleading guilty, Johannes Vulto admitted that he oversaw operations at the Vulto Creamery manufacturing facility in Walton, New York, including those relating to sanitation and environmental monitoring. Vulto and Vulto Creamery both admitted that between December 2014 and March 2017, they caused the shipment in interstate commerce of adulterated cheese. According to the plea agreement, environmental swabs taken at the Vulto Creamery facility between approximately July 2014 and February 2017 repeatedly tested positive for Listeria species. The Listeria family includes both harmless species and L. monocytogenes, which can cause listeriosis in humans. In March 2017, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) linked Vulto Creamery’s cheese to an outbreak of listeriosis, Vulto shut down the Vulto Creamery facility and issued a partial recall that was expanded to a full recall within weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the listeriosis outbreak resulted in eight hospitalizations and two deaths.

“This investigation and prosecution hold accountable the defendant and his business who through unsafe practices caused illness and death to consumers in an entirely preventable tragedy,” said U.S. Attorney Freedman. “The law enforcement and regulatory partners involved in this case will continue to work together to bring to justice those who endanger the public through unsafe and unsanitary products and facilities.”

“It is crucial that American consumers be able to trust that the foods they buy are safe to eat,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Boynton. “The department will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold responsible food manufacturers that sell dangerously contaminated products.”

“U.S. consumers rely on the FDA to ensure that their food is safe and wholesome,” said Special Agent in Charge McMillan. “When companies and individuals put themselves above the law by producing food that endangers and harms the public, as occurred in this case, we will see that they are brought to justice.”

Listeriosis is a severe, invasive illness that can be life-threatening in some cases. Persons who have the greatest risk of experiencing listeriosis due to consumption of foods contaminated with L. monocytogenes are pregnant women and their newborns, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems.

The charge to which Vulto pled guilty carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison, a term of supervised release of up to one year, and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge to which Vulto Creamery pled guilty carries a maximum sentence of Probation and a maximum fine of up to $500,000. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors. Vulto and Vulto Creamery will be sentenced on July 9, 2024, by United States Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks.

The case has been investigated by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and it is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney James T. Nelson of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Northern District of New York Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.

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