Florida

He made cheese curd in a filthy factory. Now, he’ll eat prison food for 15 months

One of the 15 products recalled by Oasis Foods after listeria was found in a sample. Oasis owner and president Christian Rivas was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for knowingly distributing cheese possibly infected with listeria.
One of the 15 products recalled by Oasis Foods after listeria was found in a sample. Oasis owner and president Christian Rivas was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for knowingly distributing cheese possibly infected with listeria.

A businessman admitted he violated his promise to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to cease distributing products made in a listeria-contaminated West Miami-Dade factory in 2014.

Christian Rivas admitted responsibility for 10 consumer illnesses linked to the violation. Now Rivas, owner of Oasis Brands, will be sent to a federal prison for 15 months after his sentencing last week in U.S. District Court.

Rivas pleaded guilty to a felony count of “the introduction ... into interstate commerce of any food, drug, device, tobacco product, or cosmetic that is adulterated or misbranded” and a misdemanor count of committing “such a violation with the intent to defraud or mislead.” The above admissions are in his plea agreement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeria “primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.” As each FDA recall announcement notes, “although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.”

Oasis, 13439 NW 19th Lane, made processed cheese products with ingredients from Nicaragua and Colombia for sale to wholesalers, who then sold them to retailers. In June 2014, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found a listeria-contaminated sample of Oasis-made Lacteos Santa Martha Quesito Casero Fresh Curd. The FDA informed Rivas and Oasis initiated a recall of the product.

That also prompted an FDA inspection of Oasis that August. Not only did the FDA find listeria in several places, but, according to documents:

“Among other things, FDA inspectors observed gaps between the grease trap door and the floor inside of the manufacturing room (this area tested positive for listeria); black mold on the ceiling and a door frame; and condensate dripping on both raw materials, as well as in-process cheese curd and finished products. These conditions resulted in Oasis' cheese products being adulterated since these food items were prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions, such that they maybe contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health ...”

Rivas promised the FDA that Oasis would manufacture no new cheese products and that he would hire a consultant to teach Oasis how to clean. He also promised to stop distributing products already finished until testing determined that the Oasis facility and cheese products were listeria-free. And he promised to put everything already being made or packaged on hold until later conversations with the FDA.

But four weeks later, Rivas distributed some cheese he had been holding, including 133 cases of individually packaged Lacteos Santa Martha Cuajada en Hoja Fresh Curd. Before a re-inspection two weeks later, the FDA learned of several illnesses from Oasis’ Fresh Curd consumers.

Rivas “admitted that he had distributed the contaminated product, despite his promise to them not to do so, in order to minimize monetary losses which would otherwise have occurred if this portion of his cheese inventory had been destroyed.”

The CDC’s investigation of the damage from Oasis’ listeria-contaminated products connected five illnesses, including four from June through October 2014, to Oasis. One occurred in a newborn baby. One person died.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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