A former upstate New York cheesemaker has pleaded guilty in connection with a listeria outbreak that left two dead and eight others sick enough to require hospitalization.

Johannes Vulto, 64, and his company, Vulto Creamery, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate for selling and distributing the raw milk cheese linked to a 2016-2017 listeria outbreak, the Justice Department said.

Listeria is a serious bacterial infection caused by eating contaminated foods. Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of becoming severely ill if infected.

“An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cheeses had been sold across the country, primarily in Whole Foods Markets. The deaths occurred in Connecticut and Vermont.

According to the complaint, multiple sanitation issues were found at the company’s Walton, N.Y. plant, where Vulto himself oversaw operations, and bacteria was found in the cheeses.

“U.S. consumers rely on the FDA to ensure that their food is safe and wholesome,” Special Agent in Charge Fernando McMillan of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations New York Field Office said. “When companies and individuals put themselves above the law by producing food that endangers and harms the public, as occurred in this case, we will see that they are brought to justice.”

Vulto is scheduled to be sentenced in July. He faces up to a year in prison, an additional year of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The company may be fined as much as $500,000.

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