Can Cheese Cause Food Poisoning? (Facts, Causes, Handling)


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Being a cheese lover myself, I wondered whether cheese can actually get you sick with food poisoning. So I’ve done extensive research on foodborne disease caused by cheese and here’s what I found.

Can cheese cause food poisoning? Cheese made with unpasteurized milk contains harmful disease-causing pathogens that can lead to food poisoning. Nevertheless, they can be made safe for consumption after being pasteurized and handled under sanitary conditions after pasteurization.

Can cheese cause food poisoning? How do they make you sick?

Believe it or not, cheese and other dairy products are considered as one of the most common foods that cause food poisoning and in worse cases, even resulted to death.

So how can cheese actually cause food poisoning?

One of the main ingredients in the process of cheese making is milk.

Whether or not cheese can cause food poisoning highly depends on what type of milk is used.

When raw milk instead of pasteurized milk is used to make the cheese, there is a danger of food poisoning.

This is because raw milk that may contain harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites has not gone through the germ-killing process of pasteurization.

The culprit to food poisoning in cheese is these disease-causing germs which include Campylobacter, CryptosporidiumOpens in a new tab., E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

A study published in the US National Library of MedicineOpens in a new tab. with regards to the disease outbreaks caused by unpasteurized dairy products from 1993 to 2006.

The study recorded over 1,500 cases of food poisoning that are caused by drinking milk and eating cheese with unpasteurized milk that has resulted in 202 hospitalizations and 2 deaths.

Nevertheless, the cause and risk do not stop here.

In 1985, a listeriosis outbreakOpens in a new tab. was recorded in the United States that resulted to 142 diseases, 28 deaths, and 20 fetal losses.

Listeriosis caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes can grow in a refrigeration temperature and have been associated with refrigerated ready-to-eat foods.

This includes soft cheeses, milk, and other dairy products, as well as hot dogs.

Furthermore, two-thirds of the listeriosis outbreak mentioned above were believed to be caused by the Latin-style cheese (particularly queso fresco and cotija) that are made under unhygienic conditions.

This means that cheese that is made with pasteurized milk are not entirely safe, especially when they are handled poorly in a filthy environment after pasteurization which can cause food contamination and food poisoning.

Preparing cheese? Check out this cool collection of time-saving cheese gadgetsOpens in a new tab. that people love on Amazon

Who are at risk of cheese poisoning? 5 groups of people that needs to be extra careful on food consumption

Generally, everyone has the chance of getting food poisoning.

Because hey, we all eat, right?

So the formula for getting infected with food poisoning is simple.

Once you eat contaminated food, you are at risk of getting food poisoning.

And in the case of cheese, you are at risk of food poisoning once you’ve eaten either:

  1. Cheese made with unpasteurized milk, or
  2. Bad cheese that is contaminated while being processed under unhygienic condition

However, there are certain groups of people that are more likely to get food poisoning than the other.

They are the so-called high-risk groups of people, this includes:

  1. Older people
  2. Newborns, infants, and young children
  3. Pregnant women and the fetus inside their belly
  4. Persons with chronic health conditions
  5. People that are suffering from certain medical conditions resulting in a compromised and weak immune system; this includes:
    • patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney or liver disease
    • patients that have undergone organ transplant
    • people undertaking chemotherapy or radiation treatment such as cancer patients

If you or your loved ones are one of these people, then you need to watch out for food poisoning and try to take precautions and extra care when selecting and eating your food.

How to know you have food poisoning? Symptoms of food poisoning

Food poisoning can be life-threatening.

The sooner you take action, the higher is your chance of getting cured.

Hence it is vital to at least know the common signs and symptoms of food poisoning so you can take action immediately and avoid a future fatal fate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOpens in a new tab., the symptoms of food poisoning may differ depending on the types of disease-causing germs you have eaten and the type of foodborne illness you are infected with.

These symptoms range from mild to severe.

Most people with food poisoning and experiencing only mild symptoms can get better by themselves without the need for medical treatment.

However, if you experience severe symptoms then you should definitely see a doctor or healthcare provider.

The most common symptoms of being infected with food poisoning include:

Nevertheless, you can’t expect to see these symptoms right after you have eaten contaminated food.

It might take hours or even days before you feel any discomfort and experiencing these symptoms.

If you suffer from any of these food poisoning symptoms especially diarrhea and vomiting, you need to replenish your body with plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Severe symptoms that required for a doctor intervention includes:

  • High fever that reaches a temperature of 102°F (measured orally)
  • A streak of blood in feces
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days
  • Having signs of dehydration (dry mouth and throat, evident decrease in urination, and feeling dizzy when standing up)
  • Frequent vomiting that results in loss of liquids in the body (and may lead to dehydration)

How to avoid food poisoning when eating cheese? 3 simple tips to lower the risk of food poisoning for cheese lovers

Seeing how cheese can cause food poisoning, you should take precautions in handling them to avoid this unwanted deadly illness.

As the wise saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”.

The following are some easy tips that you can do to avoid food poisoning caused by cheese.

Choose a cheese that is made with pasteurized milk

When buying from the grocery stores, try to avoid choosing a cheese that is made with raw milk.

Buy and eat cheese that has “pasteurized milk” on the ingredients label like this popular UHT pasteurized milkOpens in a new tab..

If you are not sure of the content of the cheese at hand try to ask the cheesemonger. And if you are still in doubt, then don’t buy it!

It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

Store cheese properly

Regardless of which variety of cheese you love, they should be refrigerated at all times until used or served.

Cheese should be refrigerated at a temperature within the range of 35°F to 40°F or below with a high humidity level.

It is also recommended to re-wrapOpens in a new tab. your opened cheese immediately with a new waxed or parchment paper to avoid the cheese from drying out or picking up flavors from other foods stored in the fridge.

Keeping them in a tightly closed container can also keep them fresh for longer.

Check out this cool, innovative cheese vault Opens in a new tab.that lets your cheese to breath and keep moisture and mold away

Another thing to keep in mind is that although you can freeze cheese, freezing cheese is NOT RECOMMENDED.

Storing cheese in the freezer will make your cheese pitifully lose their texture, changing their flavor, and make them dry after defrost!

If you accidentally freeze your cheese, then try to let them thaw slowly in the fridge before taking them out.

For this reason, it is best to avoid placing them near the freezer compartment in the fridge to avoid the possibility of you accidentally freezing them.

If you don’t know where to best store your cheese in the fridge, then store them in the bottom compartment where vegetables and fruits are usually stored as this is more preferable.

Take note of the expiration date and throw away any expired cheese in the refrigerator

Knowing how long your cheese will last is vital knowledge to stop you from eating bad expired cheese.

Remember, eating spoiled food may cost you your life!

Apparently, over 400 varieties of cheese existed and each type of cheese has different shelf life depending on their type, processing method, exposure to heat, amount of moisture.

The basic formula is that the harder the cheese, the longer is its shelf life.

This is because bacteria preferred a moist environment for growth.

Hence, hard cheese with less moisture may inhibit the growth of bacteria and in turn, make them stay fresh for longer.

So hard cheese such as Parmesan and Cheddar can generally stay fresh for longer as compared to soft cheese that contains a lot of moisture such as feta and camembert.

For commercially prepared cheese, it is easier as you can just look at the label for “best before” date.

Just buy enough cheese that you can finish within the expiration date and stay away from cheese that has gone beyond their expiration date.

The following are the shelf-life of some commonly available cheeses that have past their expiration date as provided by Eat by DateOpens in a new tab.:

Hard Cheese

Unopened : 2-4 months (fridge); 6-8 months (freezer)

Once opened : 3-6 weeks (fridge); 6-8 months (freezer)

Examples of hard cheese: Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Buffalo and Pecorino cheese

Semi-Hard Cheese

Unopened : 1-2 months (fridge); 6-8 months (freezer)

Once opened : 3-6 weeks (fridge); 6-8 months (freezer)

Examples of semi-hard cheese: Cheddar, Swiss, and Provolone cheese

Soft Cheese

Unopened : 1-2 weeks (fridge); 6 months (freezer)

Examples of soft cheese: Havarti,  Mozzarella, and Monterey Jack

Semi-soft cheese

Unopened : 1week (fridge)

Examples of soft cheese: Brie cheese, Ricotta cheese, and Feta cheese

Know your mold: good moldy cheese vs. bad moldy cheese

Whitish spots that appear on cheese may indicate the growth of unwanted mold that may then develop into blue-green mold.

The general rule is that once mold appears on food, you should consider throwing them out.

Nevertheless, this rule does not apply to all types of cheese.

Not all moldy cheese should be discarded. Some can be salvaged and still be eaten especially the hard one.

So the question is, when is moldy cheese bad and should be discarded?

According to the dietitian Katherine ZeratskyOpens in a new tab., moldy soft cheeses and sliced, shredded, or crumbled cheeses should be discarded while hard and semi-soft cheeses can still be eaten as long as the moldy part has been cut off at least 1 inch around and below the moldy spots.

This is due to the fact that mold cannot penetrate far into a piece of hard and semi-soft cheese, hence the mold-free part of cheese are not contaminated by mold. Unlike in the case of soft cheeses where the mold grows quicker.

After cutting off the moldy part of the cheese, double check to make sure that other parts of cheese are not contaminated by mold.

Then wrap them in a new plastic wrap before putting them back in the fridge.

Make sure to eat the salvaged cheese as soon as possible.

In some cheese, however, mold is perfectly fine. In fact, they taste even more delicious!

This is true in the case of mold-ripened cheeses such as Blue, Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and Stilton, where it is perfectly fine to eat them together with the mold!

Other foods commonly involved in food poisoning

Other than cheese, raw milk, and dairy products, foods commonly associated with the foodborne illness that you need to watch out for are:

What are the main causes of food poisoning?

Food poisoning or foodborne disease is primarily caused by consuming contaminated foodsOpens in a new tab.. The most common causes of foodborne illness are bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Other causes of food poisoning include toxins, molds, and allergens.

How long does it take to get food poisoning after eating bad food?

The severity and onset of food poisoning symptoms depend on the cause of infection. Some signs and symptomsOpens in a new tab. of food poisoning may begin within just a few hours upon consumption of bad food while others develop after several days.

How do you kill food poisoning bacteria?

Foodborne bacteria in fresh produce, egg, meat, and poultry products can be killed with thorough cookingOpens in a new tab.. Harmful bacteria in raw milk and milk products, including soft cheese and yogurt, can be destroyed through the process of pasteurization.

Can moldy cheese cause food poisoning?

Soft, shredded, sliced, or crumbled cheeses contaminated with mold should be thrown away as molds may spread along with harmful germs that cause food poisoning. Mold and bacteria, however, have a hard time penetrating semi-soft to hard cheeses. Hence, people can still eat moldy hard cheese as long as they cut off at least 2.5 cmOpens in a new tab. around and below the moldy area

Eina Aivoges

Eina Aivoges is a certified health and wellness coach and a licensed medical laboratory scientist. She's also a foodie, avid coffee drinker, cat-lover, blogger, and traveler.

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