Vegan food safety: raw vegan nut cheese

In recent years, unpasteurized vegan nut cheeses (e.g., vegan camembert) have become widely available in vegan stores and similar retailers, even some mainstream supermarkets.

Manufacturers and retailers of such "raw" (in the sense of unpasteurized, non-heat-treated) cheese alternatives should make sure that their products are not contaminated with any potentially pathogenic microorganisms.

There is a recent report - published in the New England Journal of Medicine (a very widely read and highly esteemed journal) - of a small but serious (as in: people became seriously ill) "Outbreak of Listeriosis Associated with Consumption of Vegan Cheese" in France (between April and December 2022), with additional cases in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. The vegan cheese in question was not explicitly named but the article says it had been imported from abroad (I would guess, from the US maybe?): "The vegan cheeses that were associated with these maternal–neonatal cases were exported to Europe, sold in retail stores, and available on the Internet". It is also not clear whether this outbreak was caused by one particular vegan cheese by one brand or several cheeses or even several brands.

In the US, two outbreaks of salmonellosis related to "raw" vegan nut cheese have also previously been reported, in 2014 and 2021.

Anyone eating "raw" vegan cheeses should make sure that wherever they buy these cheeses, they are refrigerated, look "fresh", and that they are handled hygienically (vendors should wear gloves etc.). Also, while transporting them to your home and once you have them at home, make sure to keep these cheeses uncontaminated in your fridge (fridges are often home to invisible amounts of microorganisms inlcuding moulds) and consume them within a few (let's say no more than three) days.

Pregnant women and immunocompromised people should be particularly careful and should preferentially avoid eating these cheeses completely or, if they do eat them, heat them (e.g., bake them in the oven or a toaster oven, British toastie maker, etc.).

The consumer, however, should not be the main focus. It is especially important that the manufacturers and retailers of these vegan cheeses ensure that their products are not contaminated and safe to eat for everyone, including small children, pregnant humans and other animals, and those with a weak immune system.

It can in turn be the role of consumers (i.e., you) to request (i.e., demand) such safety measures from the manufacturers and retailers.

Vegan nut cheeses are a relatively new food in the context of the history of humanity. We don't need more outbreaks and we don't need dead people to learn this lesson. Let's start today.


Alexandre Leclercq, Mathieu Tourdjman, Wesley Mattheus, Ingrid Friesema, Nina M van Sorge, Sven Halbedel, Hendrik Wilking, Marc Lecuit: Outbreak of Listeriosis Associated with Consumption of Vegan Cheese. N Engl J Med. 2024 Apr 18;390(15):1439-1440. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2400665,