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Swiss dairy boss faces criminal charges in Listeria case

Swiss dairy boss faces criminal charges in Listeria case

The owner of a dairy company in Switzerland is facing criminal charges about a fatal Listeria outbreak.

The public prosecutor’s office in Schwyz announced this week that it had completed the criminal investigation that had opened in August 2020 against the owner of a cheese factory. Käserei Vogel was closed by the business owner in 2020.

Charges were brought in 20 cases, including negligent homicide, negligent bodily harm, and violation of the Food Act. Proceedings were dropped in 10 cases because Listeria infection did not cause health problems or because victims or their relatives had not filed a criminal complaint. In four cases, the personal details of those affected were not known.

The public prosecutor believes the company inadequately fulfilled its food law control responsibilities. It has requested a conditional prison sentence and fine for the business owner. A trial date has not yet been set.

Incident background
The multi-year Listeria outbreak in Switzerland killed 10 people and was linked to pasteurized cheese products. The outbreak also caused 34 laboratory-confirmed cases. Results of an investigation implicated the Käserei Vogel dairy.

In 2018, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health opened an investigation after listeriosis cases rose. However, officials could not identify a suspected food, and the vehicle of infection remained unknown.

Another spike in infections occurred in early 2020. In April 2020, Käserei Vogel reported to the cantonal laboratory that it had detected Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of soft brie cheese made from pasteurized milk. Whole-genome sequencing revealed that the cheese isolate matched the outbreak strain.

Environmental sampling at the production site of Käserei Vogel found Listeria monocytogenes in 11 of 50 samples, and five sequenced isolates matched the outbreak strain. Officials found sanitation shortcomings and persistent environmental contamination throughout the production site.

In May 2020, 26 items, including brie, sheep and goat cheese, and organic cheeses, were recalled, and production was stopped. The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) issued a public warning in the same month advising people not to consume affected products.

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