State officials investigating the deadliest episode of food contamination in California history began Saturday dismantling equipment at the Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. factory in Artesia, trying to find the source of the bacteria connected to at least 28 deaths.
Authorities said their inquiry covered all facets of cheese production--the raw milk used to make the cheese, the pasteurization and cheese-making process, and the later handling and wrapping.
"They'll probably do some product samples as well as surface samples of the equipment to see if the organism is there," said Stuart Richardson, food and drug branch chief for California's Department of Health Services.
Health authorities combing medical records found another victim of listeriosis--a 3-day-old baby girl who died in May in Santa Clara County--but they have not determined whether the death was related to Jalisco-made cheese. They also were probing a possible link between the cheese and more deaths and illnesses in California, Oregon and Colorado.
For the second day, confusion surrounded efforts to determine the death toll caused by the contamination.
Kenneth Kizer, director of the California Department of Health Services, said Saturday that, including the Santa Clara County death, the number of listeriosis deaths and stillbirths stood at 29. Most of the other victims have been Latino women and infants.
However, Dr. Dorothy McVann, associate deputy for public health programs for Los Angeles County, said that with latest death, her agency's figures would show 30 deaths from listeriosis symptoms in Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara counties.
There was no confusion over the seriousness of the outbreak.
"I'd say this is the most severe food-related outbreak in terms of deaths in California since the early 1900s," when modern food treatment processes were implemented, said Stu Richardson, chief of the food and drug branch of the state Department of Health Services. "There have been food poisoning outbreaks where a lot of people get sick, but where they don't die."
But Kizer sought to brighten the picture Saturday. "The situation is under control," the health chief said. "As far as an epidemic taking off, or anything like that, that's not going to happen."