The owner of Miami-based cheese company was sentenced this month to more than a year in prison for knowingly selling contaminated cheese, a criminal violation that was “injurious” to the health of his customers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Christian Rivas, owner of Oasis Brands Inc., accepted a plea agreement and was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 15 months in prison. Rivas admitted he intentionally sold cheese contaminated with listeria monocytogenes after he told federal authorities he would cease distribution. He had been charged with intent to defraud and mislead in the processing and packaging of cheese.
Listeria is the name of a bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk. It can also live in food processing plants and contaminate a variety of processed meats. Unlike many other germs, listeria can grow even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. It is killed by cooking and pasteurization. Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.
In July 2014, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that listeria monocytogenes had been found in Oasis-manufactured cheese. The FDA inspected the Miami processing plant and found some cheese products had been prepared in a way that could be dangerous to people’s health. Investigators also found the bacteria on food preparation surfaces. Rivas told the FDA he would stop manufacturing cheese until his facility was sanitary, however, he failed to comply. During a follow-up inspection six weeks later, FDA investigators learned Rivas had shipped 133 cases of contaminated cheese.
In a warning letter to Rivas, an FDA representative wrote: “Listeriosis is an atypical food borne illness of major public health concern due to the severity of the disease, its high case-fatality rate, long incubation, and predilection for individuals with underlying conditions. Listeriosis in pregnant women is typically a mild “flu-like” illness, but can result in fetal death, premature labor, or neonatal infection.”
In his plea agreement, Rivas agreed there were more than 10 victims of his scheme to defraud the FDA. At least five people became ill as a result of the contaminated cheese, one each from Georgia, New York, and Texas and two from Tennessee. Four of the five were hospitalized and one of the Tennessee victims died. Three illnesses were related to pregnancy – one of the victims was a newborn.
If you have been harmed as a result of negligence by a food product manufacturer, or if a loved one has died, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.