Nine people in hospital after eating deadly cheese

Twelve people have been hospitalised with listeria infections, nine of them having become ill after eating deadly Quargel cheese produced by Styrian firm Prolactal GmbH.The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) reported the news today (Weds), adding that the 12th confirmed case was that of a 74-year-old man from Upper Austria who had been hospitalised in January.”The date of infection in all cases was before the recall of the cheese on 24 February,” AGES said.The agency added that there had been nine confirmed cases of listeria infections with one death caused by the cheese this year as of today. There were 12 confirmed cases and four deaths in 2009. There were also 33 non-cheese related listeria cases last year, it said.AGES said there had been listeria infections in all provinces except Vorarlberg and Tyrol this year.Prolactal hit the headlines after it recalled eight brands of its Quargel cheese containing deadly listeria bacteria that has killed six people in Germany and Austria.It was back in the spotlight this week as it emerged the firm had been given more than three-quarters of a million Euros in refunds on exports.The Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) reported on Monday that the firm had received an EU export refund of 759,000 Euros in 2007. It said the figure had come from the EU’s transparent data bank.Styrian KPÖ provincial deputy Claudia Klimt-Weithaler called the refund “a subsidy for brand swindling” that showed how “absurd” EU agriculture policy was. She claimed the refund had simply increased pressure from cheap competition on Styrian dairy farmers.EU export refunds are available to Austrian firms selling high-priced food products and drinks in countries outside the European Union, where prices for them are lower.Graz public prosecutor’s office announced last week that it would investigate the deadly Prolactal cheese case.The firm has also formed a team of experts on hygiene, sanitation and foodstuffs, who have international experience, to determine how the cheese was contaminated.A Prolactal spokesman said: “A comprehensive investigation that will determine the cause of the contamination is our highest priority.”The firm said it had received more than 500 calls as of Wednesday last week on the hotline it set up for concerned consumers on 0800-201080.Consumption of food with excessive concentrations of listeria can lead to meningitis, encephalitis and blood-poisoning.The relatives of the six people who died are planning to sue Prolactal.