Four of the deaths occurred in Austria, where the health ministry said this week that its research had narrowed down the source of the cases to Prolactal’s acid curd cheese. German health authorities have also confirmed that two people died after contracting listeriosis from cheese made by the dairy company.
Reacting to the announcements, Prolactal, which is owned by Artax Group, said its executive management is “deeply shocked” by the cases.
When the correlation between Prolactal cheese and the listeriosis cases first arose in January this year, Prolactal initiated a complete product recall throughout Europe.
The cheeses “Reinhardshof, Harzer Käse, 200g” and “Reinhardshof, Bauernkäse mit Edelschimmel, 200g”, which were stocked in Lidl supermarkets, were removed from shelves at the end of January.
Austrian health authorities said a painstaking investigation involving investigators trawling through old shopping receipts was necessary to establish the link between the cheeses and the listeriosis cases
Prolactal has stopped production at its Hartberg site in Styria. Production will only begin again once the causes have been full clarified. An examination into the causal links between the listeria monocytogenes found in the cheese and the occurrences of illness is still ongoing.
Prolactal, which had sales revenues of €65m in 2007, said it has never experienced events with “even the vaguest similarity” in the 50 years that it has been producing acid curd cheese.
The Austrian health authorities said a total of 45 cases of listeria related illness were reported last year in the country, 11 of which resulted in death.
Listeria is a bacterium that can contaminate a range of foodstuffs from plants to meats and dairy products, and cause listeriosis in humans. The Austrian health ministry said the disease, which causes headaches, vomiting, and fever, can be particularly dangerous for the elderly. Around one in four cases result in death.