A federal grand jury in Illinois has brought criminal indictments against four individuals who allegedly distributed more than 110,000 pounds of Mexican cheese in the United States in 2007 despite Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “hold” orders and also allegedly “washed” cheese returned by dissatisfied customers by scraping off mold and fungus so it could be resold. United States v. Zurita, No. n/a (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill., E. Div., indictment returned April 18, 2012). No illnesses or other public health issues were attributed to the adulterated cheese distribution in the six-count indictment.  

The charges involve three separate shipments of cheese from Mexico that FDA ordered to be held and then later ordered either “detained” or “refused” after testing revealed the presence of Salmonella, E. coli, Alkaline Phosphate (found in unpasteurized products), and Staphylococcus. The defendants allegedly conspired to distribute the shipments despite FDA orders not to do so. They also allegedly distributed cheese before inspection, failed to show FDA inspectors all of the cheese in a given shipment and placed “phony stand-in cheese” at one of the plants “with no labels in case the FDA inspector arrived at the plant looking for the 311 boxes from the April Shipment that had already been sold and distributed by Company A.” They also allegedly created false bills of lading.  

According to the Department of Justice, the conspiracy count and one of the FDA obstruction counts carry a maximum five-year prison term, and each count of violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act carries a maximum 20-year term. The FDA obstruction count against two defendants also carries a maximum 20-year term, “and all six counts in the indictment carry a maximum fine of $250,000.” See U.S. Department of Justice News Release, April 19, 2012.