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Dozens of packaged foods recalled in listeria outbreak. Here's what you need to know

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Dozens of packaged foods recalled in listeria outbreak. Here's what you need to know

After federal inspectors found potentially deadly bacteria in samples of its products, Modesto-based Rizo Lopez Foods Inc. recalled all of its packaged goods this month, including various types of cotija cheese, yogurt and sour cream.

The bacterium in question, Listeria monocytogenes, can cause listeriosis, a foodborne infection that is often innocuous but occasionally lethal. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one particular genetic strain of the bacterium has been tied to infections dating back to June 2014.

The agency investigated the string of infections in 2017 and 2021 and found a probable link to queso fresco and similar cheeses, but it couldn’t tell which company or companies had sold the products. Then in January, health officials found the same strain of listeria in a sample of Rizo Bros Aged Cotija. Tests by the FDA at Rizo Lopez Foods’ manufacturing plant also found a sample with that strain, prompting the company to voluntarily recall its entire product line.

Since then, numerous manufacturers of packaged foods that contained Rizo Bros cheeses have recalled their products. These include salads and prepared meals from Dole, Trader Joe’s, Von’s, Costco, Albertsons and Bristol Farms.

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Only 26 infections linked to this strain have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the CDC says that many people who contract listeria don’t report it. The agency interviewed 22 of the people infected, and 16 said they’d eaten queso fresco, cotija or similar cheeses.

Considering the number of products that Rizo Lopez has sold and the small number of reported cases, the odds of someone falling dangerously ill seem slim. Nevertheless, the FDA recommends that people check their refrigerators and freezers for recalled products and throw away any they find.

Here’s what you need to know about the disease and the recent recalls.

What is listeria?

Technically, the term refers to the bacteria, but it often is used instead to refer to listeriosis, the illness. Unusually hardy, the bacteria can survive refrigeration and even freezing, the Mayo Clinic says.

Potential breeding grounds for the bacteria are moist environments, soil, water, decaying vegetation and animals, the FDA says. Food can pick up the bacteria by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or environments; pets who eat contaminated foods can also spread it through the home.

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What are the symptoms of a listeria infection?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “healthy people rarely become ill from listeria infection.” If you do feel symptoms, they may start like a stomach bug, with vomiting and diarrhea beginning up to 24 hours after eating contaminated food and lasting one to three days. But this kind of illness is rarely diagnosed, the CDC says, because laboratories do not usually look for listeria when testing patients’ stool samples.

The threat is that the infection will spread beyond the stomach, becoming invasive.

According to the CDC, for those who are pregnant, the symptoms of invasive listeriosis are usually like the flu — fever, muscle aches and fatigue — but tend to be mild, if they appear at all. But the risk to a fetus is dire; infection during pregnancy “usually leads to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn,” the CDC says.

For those who aren’t pregnant, the symptoms can be serious. They include fever, headache, muscle aches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and seizures. Almost 5% of the non-pregnant people who come down with invasive listeriosis die, according to the CDC.

Who is most at risk?

Because of the danger to fetuses and newborns, pregnant women are a prime risk group. But so are people with weaker immune systems, because of either their age or a medical condition or treatment regimen that lowers their body’s natural defenses.

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The CDC warns that people 65 and older are four times more likely to contract listeriosis than others are. People with cancer are 10 times more likely, and people who need dialysis are 50 times more susceptible.

How is listeria transmitted?

It’s a foodborne disease, which means you get it from eating something contaminated with the bacteria. And those are found most often in unpasteurized dairy products and improperly processed meats, the Mayo Clinic says.

How can you avoid getting infected?

First and foremost, the CDC advises not to eat any of the dairy products manufactured by Rizo Lopez Foods or its customers. In other words, check the recall list (see below, but also check for updates at the FDA’s listeria outbreak web page) and don’t consume those products.

If you had any of those products in your refrigerator or freezer, you should sanitize any surfaces or containers that they touched, following the FDA’s guidelines for safe handling and cleaning. Otherwise, the hardy listeria bacteria will troop across surfaces to contaminate other products.

Where have listeria infections been reported?

The 26 cases tracked by the CDC are primarily spread across the southern and western United States. The largest number of cases — 8, or 30% of the total — have been in California. Arizona and Colorado have each seen four cases, Texas and Tennessee each have two reported cases, and six other states each have one.

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Which products have been recalled?

Rizo Lopez has recalled nearly 60 products, most of which are Mexican cheeses and cremas under the brand names Tio Francisco, Rizo Bros, Casa Cardenas and Campesino.

In addition, the Rizo Lopez recalled product line includes:

  • Cotija cheese, 16-ounce packages by Food City
  • Cotija Enchilado cheese, 16-ounce packages by Food City
  • Crema Mexicana, 16-ounce packages by Food City and Santa Maria, and at retail deli counters by San Carlos
  • Fresco cheese at deli counters by San Carlos, El Huache and La Ordena
  • Oaxaca cheese, 16-ounce packages by Food City, and at retail deli counters by San Carlos
  • Panela cheese, 16-ounce packages by Food City, and at retail deli counters by San Carlos, Dos Ranchitos and La Ordena
  • Queso Crema, 16-ounce packages by Food City, and at retail deli counters by San Carlos
  • Queso Fresco, 10- and 12-ounce packages by Don Francisco, 14-ounce packages by Rio Grande, 16-ounce packages by Food City, and at retail deli counters by San Carlos, Santa Maria and Dos Ranchitos
  • Ricotta cheese, part skim and whole milk varieties, 15-ounce packages by 365 by Whole Foods Market

But wait, there’s more. The FDA on Wednesday released a list of 16 recalled processed food items made in part with dairy products from Rizo Lopez. The brands on the list were Bright Farms, Campesino, Casa Cardenas, Dole, Don Francisco, Don Pancho, Dos Ranchitos, El Huache, Food City, Fresh & Ready Foods, Fresh Express, H-E-B, Jack & Olive, La Ordena, Marketside, Maverick Foods, President’s Choice, Ready Pac Bistro, Rio Grande, Rizo Bros, Rojo’s, San Carlos, Santa Maria, Sprig & Sprout, the Perfect Bite Co., Tio Francisco, Trader Joe’s, and 365 by Whole Foods Market. Some of the 16 items were sold by multiple brands.

Some supermarkets also sold unbranded taco kits, wraps and meals that included recalled Rizo Lopez cheeses. These were Albertsons, Bristol Farms, Carrs-Safeway, Costco, Eagle, Lucky, Pavilions, Randalls, Safeway, Save Mart, Shaw’s, Sprouts, Star Market, Stater Bros. Markets, Tom Thumb and Vons.

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Netflix's password-sharing crackdown is paying off as profits beat Wall Street's forecast

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Netflix's password-sharing crackdown is paying off as profits beat Wall Street's forecast

Netflix’s victory lap as the leader in streaming continued Thursday, as the company said it increased its subscriber base by 9.3 million to nearly 270 million in the first quarter.

Revenue was up 15% to $9.37 billion in the first quarter, the Los Gatos, Calif., streamer reported. Net income was $2.3 billion, compared with $1.3 billion in the same period in 2023.

The company beat Wall Street’s estimates on revenue, subscriber additions and net income. Analysts on average had projected that Netflix would increase its customer base by around 5.5 million subscribers, according to FactSet.

Netflix has impressed investors as the company cracks down on password sharing, grows its lower-priced ad-supported subscription tier and puts out a steady stream of popular original programs.

The steamer’s stock price has increased 30% so far this year and has recovered more than two years after subscriber losses and disappointing results sent it spiraling. Its shares closed at $610.56 Thursday, down 0.5%. The shares fell about 5% in after-hours trading.

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“When analyzing key metrics such as subscribers, profitability, and audience demand, it’s clear that Netflix is pulling away from the competition and everyone else is fighting for second place,” Parrot Analytics analyst Wade Payson-Denney wrote in a report.

Netflix has remained the dominant subscription streaming platform in part because of its content prowess with licensed titles, such as “Suits,” and original programs, including international productions, K-dramas, reality shows, live events and sports documentaries.

In a letter to shareholders Thursday, the company forecast revenue growth of 13% to 15% this year. The number of sign-ups for subscriptions with ads grew 65% in the first quarter.

“We’re off to a good start in 2024,” the letter said.

New shows have included the live-action version of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” based on the popular Nickelodeon series. The series was renewed for two additional seasons. Other popular titles include the fantasy adventure movie “Damsel,” drama “Griselda” and romantic limited series “One Day.”

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Rivals are still trying to match Netflix’s recommendation technology. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger called Netflix’s technology the “gold standard.” “We need to be at their level in terms of technology capability,” Iger said at a Morgan Stanley conference this year.

lthough many analysts are bullish on Netflix, some note that its growth prospects are limited in the United States and Canada, where many households already subscribe to the platform.

The streamer also needs to replenish its reservoir of popular shows, as some of its series with large fan bases, such as “Stranger Things” and “Cobra Kai,” are approaching their final seasons.

Netflix has been adapting popular manga and anime series such as “One Piece” and working with producers including “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Benioff and Weiss, alongside co-creator Alexander Woo, adapted the Chinese sci-fi trilogy “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” into the show “3 Body Problem,” which launched last month.

The company also is investing in live events and sports-related content, including signing a major deal with the WWE to bring its flagship weekly pro wrestling show “Raw” to Netflix in January.

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Analysts are looking for more details about Netflix’s movies strategy, after its longtime film chief Scott Stuber left his position and was replaced by Dan Lin, founder of production company Rideback.

Under Stuber’s leadership, Netflix collaborated with high-profile, A-list stars and directors and won critical acclaim for movies including “The Power of the Dog” and “Roma,” though winning an Oscar for best picture has proved elusive.

Critics have pointed out that Netflix may make more money by investing in series rather than films because there are more hours of content for viewers to consume. Netflix executives have maintained that having original movies on the platform is a key part of their strategy.

“There is no appetite to make fewer films, but there is an unlimited appetite to make better films always,” Netflix co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos said in an earnings presentation.

Another change that’s afoot — Netflix said starting with its first quarter in 2025, it will no longer provide quarterly membership numbers.

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China’s highflying EV industry is going global. Why that has Tesla and other carmakers worried

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China’s highflying EV industry is going global. Why that has Tesla and other carmakers worried

The U.S.-China rivalry has a new flashpoint in the battle for technology supremacy: electric cars.

So far, the U.S. is losing.

Last year, China became the world’s foremost auto exporter, according to the China Passenger Car Assn., surpassing Japan with more than 5 million sales overseas. New energy vehicles accounted for about 25% of those exports, and more than half of those were created by Chinese brands, a shift from the traditional assembly role China has played for foreign automakers.

“The big growth has happened in the last three years,” said Stephen Dyer, head of the Asia automotive and industrials unit at AlixPartners, a consulting firm. “With Chinese automakers making inroads for most of the market share, that’s a huge challenge for foreign automakers.”

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China’s rapid expansion domestically and abroad has added fuel to a series of clashes between the U.S. and China over trade and advanced technology, as competition intensifies between the two superpowers.

The U.S. has lofty goals for expanding its own EV industry. California, which accounted for 37% of the nation’s electric car sales as of 2022, aims to phase out purchases of new cars that run on fossil fuels by 2035.

Concerns about Chinese oversupply have come just as a broader slowdown in sales has hit EV makers. Tesla announced Monday that it would lay off more than 10% of its workforce in an effort to reduce costs and increase productivity.

In the company’s last earnings report in January, Chief Executive Elon Musk warned about the competitiveness of Chinese brands. BYD, China’s largest EV maker, surpassed Tesla in car sales last year.

“If there are not trade barriers established, they will pretty much demolish most other car companies in the world,” Musk said.

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This year, Manhattan Beach-based Fisker Inc., an electrical vehicle startup, cut 15% of its workforce, had its stock delisted and said it might file for bankruptcy protection. Apple also recently announced an end to its long-held ambitions of making a self-driving EV.

One area in which Chinese automakers handily beat Western competitors is on price, thanks to government subsidies that supported the industry’s initial rise as well as cheap access to critical minerals and components such as lithium-ion batteries, which account for about a third of the overall cost of production.

“It always had these ingredients waiting around,” said Cory Combs, an associate director for Chinese energy policy at the consulting firm Trivium China. “It was kind of a magic moment for these things to come together.”

That enabled the success of BYD, which started producing lithium-ion batteries in 1996 and making cars in 2005.

In March, BYD cut the price of its cheapest EV model in China to less than $10,000. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average EV retail price is $55,343 in the U.S., compared with $48,247 across all vehicles.

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While pricing wars have forced Chinese automakers to slash profit margins at home, they can charge more in overseas markets, further incentivizing exports as domestic growth has slowed. According to research firm Gavekal Dragonomics, demand in China has cooled due to the removal of tax breaks and an increase in the use of public transportation post-pandemic.

“There is a ton of pressure, especially if you are a smaller player, to find a market that is less competitive,” Combs said. “And every market is less competitive than China’s.”

Though 27.5% tariffs have in effect locked Chinese EVs out of the U.S. market, the fear that the cheaper models could eventually undermine American automakers has started to spread.

The Alliance of American Manufacturing warned in a February report that allowing Chinese EVs into the country would be an “extinction-level event” for the U.S. auto industry. The group also cited the risks of Chinese auto companies building facilities across the border in Mexico that could circumvent tariffs.

When the global market is flooded by artificially cheap Chinese products, the viability of American and other foreign firms is put into question

— Janet Yellen

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After a trip to China in April, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen expressed concerns about government-funded overcapacity in Chinese manufacturing of electric vehicles, batteries and solar panels. She noted that other advanced and emerging markets shared those worries, and compared the oversupply to a flood of low-cost Chinese steel hitting the global economy more than a decade ago.

“When the global market is flooded by artificially cheap Chinese products, the viability of American and other foreign firms is put into question,” Yellen said.

The European Union has opened an investigation into government subsidies utilized by China’s EV industry and whether such support violates international trade laws.

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China’s state news agency pushed back on claims of overcapacity in an April article, which said exports accounted for 12% of China’s EV sales last year. It attributed the industry’s success to competitive pricing and technology, rather than government subsidies.

After meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in April, Chinese President Xi Jinping decried protectionism in other countries and said Chinese EV exports have helped ease global inflation and combat climate change.

How the U.S. is addressing the emergence of China’s EV dominance has already become a hot-button issue for the presidential election in November.

President Biden has encouraged the domestic expansion with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes electric vehicle tax credits for U.S. manufacturers, but not if they are sourcing minerals and materials from “foreign entities of concern,” such as China. Meanwhile, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has claimed electric car manufacturing will reduce auto industry jobs, and called for a rollback of the EV-friendly policies enacted during Biden’s term.

Politicians from both parties have proposed even harsher tariffs on Chinese-made EVs should they try to enter the U.S. market, prioritizing the protection of U.S. jobs over goals to reduce carbon emissions.

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“That will make it even more important for Chinese companies to set up local assembly operations to minimize those costs,” said Gregor Sebastian, senior analyst at the New York-based research firm Rhodium Group. “A lot of companies are adopting a wait-and-see approach.”

Even without Chinese auto imports, the technology within the vehicles has unnerved U.S. officials. In March, Biden announced an investigation into Chinese-made “smart cars” and the data the internet-connected vehicles could collect on American users. Collaborations between U.S. companies and CATL, the Chinese battery-making behemoth, have also been subject to greater scrutiny as tensions between the two countries have worsened.

But China has spent decades cementing its status as a global leader in procuring minerals and developing critical technologies such as EV batteries while the U.S. has fallen behind. That will make it harder now for Western automakers to wholly shut out Chinese suppliers, said Tu Le, founder and managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a consulting firm.

“If automakers are going to build affordable, clean-energy vehicles this decade, the only way that happens is by using Chinese batteries,” Le said.

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Money Talk with Liz Weston: Can my credit score really be marred over $20?

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Money Talk with Liz Weston: Can my credit score really be marred over $20?

Dear Liz: I have had great credit for years. Late last year, I somehow overlooked a $20 payment due from one of my credit cards. My score dropped by more than 50 points, from about 815 to 765. I quickly paid the $20 and contacted the issuer. They told me they were required by law to report my delinquent payment, which I found out was not true. I went back and forth with them, but they would not do anything to help. I did file an inquiry with one of the credit bureaus, but I was told there was nothing they could do without the issuer’s cooperation. I spoke with someone in the issuer’s corporate offices, but he could not have cared less. It turns out that this hit on my credit could last seven years — and all over $20. I charge thousands of dollars every year on credit cards and pay the balance every month. Is there anything else I can do to restore my credit to the previous levels?

Answer: The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act does require creditors to report accurate information to the credit bureaus. However, some people say they’ve been able to get their accidental late payments removed by writing “good will” letters to their issuers. These letters explain what happened, emphasize the customer’s previous record of on-time payments and politely request the issuer extend some good will by removing the one-time lapse from their credit reports.

Your issuer is under no obligation to grant your request, and some categorically say they won’t. But it can’t hurt to try.

You also can use this incident as a reason to review how you pay your credit cards. Setting up automatic payments to cover at least your minimum payment will ensure this doesn’t happen again. Keep an eye on your credit utilization as well. Aim to use 10% or less of your credit limits. If you find it difficult to keep your charges below that level, consider making multiple payments each month to keep your balance low.

The unexpected drop in your credit scores was painful, but the good news is that you still have great scores. This oversight is unlikely to have any lasting effect on your financial life. And if you continue to use credit responsibly, your scores will improve over time.

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Complicated condo question

Dear Liz: You recently answered a question about gifting a condo. I understood the first part of your answer: If the person receiving the gift lives in the condo for two of the last five years, then there is no capital gains exposure. The second part of your answer is a little confusing to me. You wrote, “However, her taxable gain would be based on your tax basis in the property: basically what you paid for the home, plus any qualifying improvements.” So, if my mother gifted her condo to me and she paid $50,000 for it 40 years ago, and the condo today is selling for $250,000, what is my capital gains exposure? To keep it simple, assume no capital improvements or other factors.

Answer: Living in and owning a home for two of the previous five years does not erase someone’s capital gains exposure. Instead, they’re entitled to exclude up to $250,000 of home sale gains from their income.

In the case you describe, your potentially taxable capital gain would be $200,000. That’s the selling price of $250,000 minus your mother’s tax basis (which is now your tax basis) of $50,000.

If you owned and lived in the home at least two of the previous five years, your exclusion would more than offset your gain, so the home sale wouldn’t be taxable. If you didn’t make it to the two-year mark, you could get a partial exemption under certain circumstances, such as a work- or health-related move. For more details, see IRS Publication 523, “Selling Your Home.”

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner®, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.

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