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'Mr. Cheese' pays price for sickening Utah clients with salmonella

Published December 2, 2011 9:30 am

Sanitation problems • Queso fresco made without permit.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The man behind the bad cheese, Fidel Gomez, will be paying $500 for violations of the Utah Dairy Act, according to a Utah Department of Agriculture and Food news release Thursday.

Gomez, whose homemade cheese sickened people with salmonella, failed to label his cheese and illegally manufactured and distributed it without a permit.

Investigators say that Gomez, whom they previously called Mr. Cheese, made his queso fresco without proper sanitation equipment. Some of that cheese was sold at a Salt Lake Valley restaurant.

The Department of Health identified 42 people who fell sick with Salmonella Newport in 2011, but not all of them reported eating queso fresco, according to Julia Hall, an epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health.

"Some of them we were not able to interview so we don't know how they contracted the illness," she said.

Eighteen of the 42 said they had consumed queso fresco, but whether it was Gomez's cheese remains unclear.

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department continues to investigate the restaurant that sold the contaminated cheese. The department previously issued a notice of violation to the owner requiring the cheese no longer be sold. A financial penalty, still to be determined, will be charged.

"That's where we'll recover our costs of our investigation," said Royal DeLegge, environmental health director at the department.

Health officials first became aware of a potential problem with Salmonella Newport in 2009 and the state continues to investigate whether there are other sources of the bacteria.

The agriculture department is not planning any further action against Gomez.