It was one of those accidents of the publishing business that give editors nightmares.
On Thursday, June 13, health officials revealed that 29 people in Southern California had died from a disease-producing bacteria called Lysteria monocytogenes , which was found in contaminated Mexican-style cheese made by Artesia-based Jalisco Mexican Products.
In the Menlo Park headquarters of Sunset magazine, meanwhile, the staff was huddled to closely examine a feature in their June issue.
The subject? How fresh cheeses like those produced in Mexico are growing in popularity.
The article, which featured descriptions of \o7 queso fresco \f7 and other fresh cheeses as well as recipes to use them in, was headlined: "Mild and white, here come Mexico's rancho-style cheeses. . . . They're easy to like, easy to use."
"Can you believe the timing?" said Joyce Covington, Sunset's public relations manager. "We were, or course, concerned."
Sunset staff members met the morning after the Listeriosis deaths were publicized to review the article. "It was a matter of simply reviewing what we had done and seeing that it was fine," she said.
That June edition of the magazine was completed by the end of April and was sent out to subscribers and newsstands by mid-May, long before the deaths were disclosed, Covington said.
"The timing was unfortunate but as we were going to press, everything was fine," she said. "The information that we had was the best information that was available."
The article and the cheeses selected were checked through the Bureau of Milk and Dairy Foods Control in Sacramento. What's more, the article explains how to recognize spoilage in the fresh cheeses, which usually aren't aged and therefore go bad after a few days, she said.
"We tried really hard to cover all those bases," Covington said.
Sunset staff members who liberally sampled the cheeses during preparation are "very aware" of the flu-like symptoms of Listeriosis, but no one has become ill, Covington said. The magazine by midweek also had not received any telephone calls or complaints about the feature, she said.
Jalisco has recalled its 28 varieties of cheese under the brand names Jalisco, La Vaquita, Jiminez and Guadalajara.