Trouble in cheese town: Listeria outbreak rocks the queso fresco community

Person handling cheese with gloves on
Photo: Andia (Getty Images)

If you A) live on the east coast and B) have queso fresco in your fridge, you’re gonna want to take a look at the packaging. Early last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported seven Listeria-related illnesses across four states. Now the Food & Drug Administration has issued a recall of certain El Abuelito queso fresco products, linking the outbreak to the soft cheese.


While pasteurizing milk for queso fresco usually kills Listeria bacteria, unsanitary manufacturing conditions can lead to product contamination. In an effort to minimize the outbreak, the New Jersey-based El Abuelito company is recalling all Queso Fresco products with sell-by dates of March 28, 2021. The recall includes El Abuelito Cheeses distributed in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, but it also encompasses Rio Grande Food Products distributed in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland, as well as Rio Lindo products distributed in North Carolina and Maryland.

If you’re planning to ignore the FDA and chow down on some El Abuelito queso fresco this weekend, hold it right there. Listeria infection can cause symptoms like nausea, fatigue, body aches, headache, and fever, and symptoms can be especially severe for immunocompromised individuals, people over 65, and those who are pregnant. Fortunately, you can return any affected El Abuelito products to the site of purchase for a full refund. If you’re not sure if your queso fresco qualifies, check out a full list of brands, product names, and UPC codes on the FDA’s website.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.



I probably haven’t had the good queso fresco - but I haven’t yet figured out what the brands I’ve tried bring to the table in terms of flavor. It seems to be a bland white sprinkle on top of a lot of Mexican dishes. Can someone enlighten me as to its appeal?

I like cotija in certain applications; queso fresco, Oaxaca cheese, Chihuahua cheese, queso blanco - all which I’ve tried - I have not liked much. Too mild, not melty or cheesy enough. I want to find the Mexican manchego and haven’t found it yet.

(Gringo here, who loves that melty, mysterious and elusive “Mexican” cheese they use at low-brow restaurants.)