California Police Seize 375 Pounds Of Bathtub Cheese

Meet Floribel Hernandez Cuenca and Manuel Martin. California police arrested the pair on “felony cheese making charges” after they tried to sell 375 pounds of bathtub cheese at an open-air market in San Bernardino. Bathtub cheese, otherwise known as “illegal soft cheese,” can cause a range of maladies including listeria, salmonella, and everybody’s favorite gut goblin, E. coli.

The 375 pounds of seized illegal cheese included panela, queso fresco and queso oxaca varieties, the [California Department of Food and Agriculture] says. It was a significant find, the department says.

“Illegally produced is cheese is serious threat to public health,” says CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura.

We suggest that the pair be sentenced to eat their wares, preferably in public.

Arrests drain bathtub cheese sellers [Central Valley Business Times via BarfBlog]
(Photo: jthorvath)


Edit Your Comment

  1. INconsumer says:

    oooh. nasty!

  2. homerjay says:

    I warsh myself with a rag on a stick!

  3. FREAKHEAD says:

    awww man, and right before breakfast…think I threw up in my mouth a little.

  4. new and troubling questions says:

    suddenly, Cheez Whiz isn’t looking so bad…

  5. overbysara says:

    sooooo… how did the police know they were making the cheese in a bathtub?

  6. ptkdude says:

    The problem wasn’t that they were making cheese in their bathroom. The problem is they were SELLING home-made cheese. I am a home brewer and I run into the same thing. I can give away all the beer I want, but I can’t sell a drop of it (not that I have a desire to).

  7. backspinner says:

    I’ve had enough of this NANNY STATE! I should have the right to buy homemade cheese and get salmonella. Let the MARKET “correct” my stomach!

  8. FrankTheTank says:

    Just to check now…

    Homemade cheese, which can contain listeria, salmonella, and E. coli is illegal, poses a danger to the community (and is considered nasty).

    Raw milk, which can contain listeria, salmonella, and E. coli is the hot new trend among foodies, and some actively encourage people to give it to their young kids…

    (I understand the real issue is about licensing and attaining health dept. approval to make a food product, just pointing out the hypocritical nature of the response…)

  9. ErinYay says:

    Raw milk also has a ton of health benefits. If the cows are kept well, and milked in as sterile an environment as possible, there’s no risk of disease.

    (My younger sister and her husband have a little “actually-organic” (they go above and beyond the requirements, which are stupid) 100% grass-fed sheep farm, which apparently makes us all a bunch of hippies.)

  10. cac67 says:

    @backspinner: Absofreakinglutely! You should be able to eat anything you want, and from any source you want to buy it from. As long as no tax dollars go towards your health care.

    @FREAKHEAD: Yech. Thats nasty. Cant say I blame you, though. I sure hope they cleaned the hair out of the drain before they started the cheese.

  11. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    Well there goes my next great internet business –

  12. maynard says:

    Raw cheese can be perfectly safe, and often tastes better than pasteurized. Though I can’t say I’m comfortable with that hygiene. Definitely looks yuck to me.

  13. ChrisC1234 says:

    Just the name “Bathtub Cheese” makes me want to puke.

  14. MrEvil says:

    @HappyPuppy: Other than the change in taste, raw milk and pasturized milk have nearly the same nutritional content. Pasteurization destroys only 10 to 30% of the heat sensitive vitamins in milk, and milk isn’t even a significant source of those to begin with. Roughly 1% of the calcium is rendered insoluble and a bit of the protein is coagulated. But not enough to make a huge lot of difference. What you get from Pasteurization is a substantial reduction in risk of the milk making you ill at a cost of maybe a tenth of its nutritional content.

    You also have to remember, dairy cattle can’t be given any antibiotics because it makes the milk useless for the production of cheese and yogurt. At least they do have a vaccine for Brucellosis which causes undulent fever in humans that consume tainted raw milk.

  15. quagmire0 says:

    There’s nothing like fresh Frumunda!

  16. ianjohn27 says:

    Is there any evidence that the cheese was ACTUALLY produced in a bathtub? Or is that simply a nickname that implies it’s disgusting? How do you know they didn’t actually make it in sterilized food-grade 5 gallon jugs? (And they probably did, actually, you don’t want to lose a batch of cheese to the bad bugs). It’s all about trust — do you trust a huge megacorporation with bought-off FDA inspectors (e.g. look at how many recalls of factory meat there have been in the last couple years). Or do you trust a local producer who you see every week at the market, and whose family may have been making cheese for generations in mexico? I have no idea about the specific details of this case, but it’s a judgment call you make every time you buy food. Factory food isn’t necessarily any safer than homemade food.

  17. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Guys, it’s not literally made in a bathtub. They named it after the “bathtub gin” of Prohibition days. Here in Houston this type of cheese is a problem, but only among the poor who make it and buy it, and in a few unscrupulous restaurants. The taco wagon proprietors don’t buy it, because they are too afraid of getting dinged in a routine inspection or by a sick customer, and losing their entire tiny livelihood.

  18. akalish says:


  19. glass says:

    I think everyone defending our “right” to buy and consume bathtub cheese is missing the real issue. What’s illegal is that they didn’t go through the procedures required by law to make sure their food is safe. Anyone can make and sell their own tub cheese, you just have to go about it legally. This isn’t to keep the man down, this is to make sure that people don’t get sick. This is to make sure that there’s accountablility. If you want to buy illegally made tub cheese from a pair of possibly illegal Mexicans, by all means go for it. Mexico isn’t that far away from where this took place. There’s all sorts of food there to make you sick.

  20. Skeptic says:

    Raw milk also has a ton of health benefits. If the cows are kept well, and milked in as sterile an environment as possible, there’s no risk of disease.

    Wrong. Reduced risk, yes. No risk? NFW. A “ton of health benefits?” Not really. As a previous poster pointed out Pasteurized milk has almost the identical nutrition with almost none of deadly bacteria. Pasteurizing milk isn’t something invented for modern times it was introduced for milk in the 1880’s. It’s good **old-fasioned** technology that saves lives, reduces incidents of illness an increases shelf life.

    You also have to remember, dairy cattle can’t be given any antibiotics because it makes the milk useless for the production of cheese and yogurt.

    Unfortunately dairy cattle that are given the Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production (banned in all of the EU) increases their rate of infection and are thus given antibiotics.

    Stay away from milk made by rBGH.

  21. rdldr1 says:

    European cheese is superior to American cheese due to their use of Raw, unpasteurized milk – it simply tastes that much better. Some people swear by raw milk cheese. But I guess not getting deathly ill is a good trade off to taste. I’d definitely stay away from bathtub cheese.

  22. oneswellfoop says:

    “CAN” cause all those nasty things. That doesn’t mean will. I make farmers cheese all the time to go on croûtons for salads at dinner, and I serve it to guests. They love it, I do it safely and well. Making cheese isn’t hard, nor is it hard to control bacterial growth and sanitary measures. As long as this lady bleached the hell out of that bathtub before making the cheese, and then wiped it down, that’s perfectly OK.
    The FDA is stupid over so much. Buy fresh things from people and retailers that you have a relationship with and trust, and screw the FDA in regards to their food rules.
    The food rules they employ are made to protect consumers in a mass food production market. You want to buy that mass produced crap that tastes like cardboard, then go ahead. You can cook your meats to the FDA recommended temps and have them be chewy like bubble gum and eat a slice of FDA approved Kraft cheese that’s orange because it’s been dyed that color as well. If you want to talk about disgusting and nasty…..

  23. Schizohedron says:

    I suppose sale of Italian maggot cheese is right out, then?

  24. magus_melchior says:

    @oneswellfoop: The problem is, we know absolutely nothing about whether this couple is as safe about cheese-making as you are, and they were selling the stuff in an open-air market. I don’t know if the cheese was chilled at the market, the article doesn’t say that either. I’m sure they wouldn’t care if you made all the cheese in the world as long as you don’t sell it.

    I prefer home-made over mass-produced as much as you, but geez, the Feds aren’t forcing you to eat the stuff…

  25. ExtraCelestial says:

    while the idea of making something edible in a place where u wash yourself is a rather nasty thought, as a frenchie i must say that this whole american pateurization nazi business is rather senseless. for one, youre missing out on some insanely tasty cheeses! also, with the cheeses spoiling much quicker youre guaranteed to get much fresher and higher quality foods since stricter laws will be put into place and markets will be forced to comply and handle food more safely.

  26. amaduli says:

    @backspinner: BRAVO!!
    If they were, in fact, forced to eat their own product in public, they probably wouldn’t have any problem with it. It’s probably delicious and safe.
    I miss mexico. Panela, queso fresco, and queso oxaca are exactly the cheeses that I would love to see here, but I can’t find them! Is that because they’re banned? Cause I know they would be mad popular. I lived for 2 years eating homemade panela and fresco in Mexico. I recently visited again and practically lived on oxaca. I was tempted to bring a head sized ball of it in my luggage.

  27. longtimegeek says:

    Yes, all of us do lots of things in our kitchens that would not pass food safety rules for commercial kitchens — but us lucking out, or only killing our immediate family, is a lot different than Floribel and Manual doing whatever they please and possibly impacting hundreds of unsuspecting people.

    Food-borne illnesses kill people. Read “The Jungle” by Sinclair Lewis and then come back here and complain about the government getting in our way with their nanny state clean food laws.

  28. MercuryPDX says:

    I prefer bathtub Gin. :)

  29. longtimegeek says:

    Oops, Upton Sinclair, not Sinclair Lewis (I had a mini-stroke)

  30. Major-General says:

    @backspinner: That’s a solution I can get behind. Far behind.

    @ianjohn27: True.

    The big problem is that the manufacturing “facility” is either not approved for human food production nor inspected. Now odds are these people have been part of a cheese making tradition for generations. But the law, put in place to protect the consumer, says you can’t do it.

    The last time I saw something like this in the news, one of the Mexican grocery store chains was fined for selling it, and about 10 people actually got salmonella.

  31. STrRedWolf says:

    The only good news out of this is that the photo kitteh is easily LOL’ed. “Oh hai! Yr out of cheez fer mai burger.”

  32. timmus says:

    Why is E. coli always trotted out as the whipping boy of food poisoning? How would E. coli, a fecal bacteria, get into soft cheese, short of contamination which can happen with any type of food?

  33. DrGirlfriend says:

    Non-pasteurized cheeses are very common in other countries. So the idea of homemade, raw milk cheese is not, indeed, revolting. The problem is that with it being illegal to sell non-pasteurized dairy products, there is no overseeing government body making sure that the production is safe. Therefore, these people selling their cheese is illegal because no one can vouch that their facilities meet any kind of standards.

  34. EtherealStrife says:

    The 375 pounds of seized illegal cheese

    So…who cut the cheese?

  35. 12monkeys says:

    At least it was not fromunda cheese

  36. talbrech says:

    Anyone who thinks this cheese was actually made in a bathtub has some serious issues. It’s simply “homebrew” cheese. The “bathtub” is simply FUD that the dairy industry and government use to scare you all away from it.

  37. JAYEONE says:

    @stanfrombrooklyn: Thank God for that (lol)

  38. JAYEONE says:

    @Schizohedron: You know you’re in uncharted territory when the label on your cheese “recommends eye protection while eating cheese product”!

  39. Electroqueen says:

    The first thing I thought when I saw this post was this:

  40. Her Grace says:

    I tried raw milk today for the first time, having seen the various threads here about how super special it is. I have to say, this stuff? Tastes just like every other damned glass of milk I’ve ever had. The hype is idiotic. There was a slight texture difference (I could definitely feel the cream in my mouth), which was interesting, but not $3 for 750mls worth of interesting.

    I can’t imagine raw milk cheese is any more special than any other small-farm produced cheese. Of course there’s a big difference between Kraft and a small, local cheesemaker. But as I don’t like soft cheeses, I think the difference in raw milk hard cheeses and regular milk hard cheeses would be nonexistent.

  41. Hoss says:

    If this were a Vermont couple selling home produced apple cider, peanut butter, ice cream, jams, herb butter, sour dough bread, vinegar, maple syrup etc,, would this be interesting? Let’s call it bathtub cidar and arrest them!

  42. Pink Puppet says:

    @Hossofcourse: If the Vermont couple was making cheese and selling it in an open air market, then they’d probably get the same treatment. I’m sure all those other food items fall under entirely different categories.

  43. Celeste says:

    @Her Grace: to each their own. No one is trying to force the government to mandate that all milk be sold raw. I started drinking raw milk by accident – I bought a gallon at the local farmers market, and while they emphasized that this was ‘real’ milk, I didn’t catch their drift immediately (yeah, I’m slow sometimes). I got home, poured a glass, and damn that was without a doubt the best glass of milk I’d ever tasted in my life. Went back the next week to find out that Virginia had done a recent crackdown on local farmers, and all of a sudden my black-market milk (which is what it was) was no longer available.

    If you aren’t particularly fond of milk to begin with, I don’t see any reason to pay the extra money to get it raw. If you happen to really love milk, raw milk tastes way better. Just like some folks still like their meat rare, no matter how much screaming we hear about cooking the hell out of it, I’ll take a little extra risk in exchange for improved taste.

  44. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @Celeste: You know, I have a story like yours. Years ago, I attended the University of Georgia, where they have a huge agricultural school. All of the milk sold in the cafeterias and vending machines (yes, milk vending machines) came from the on-campus dairy. Now, this milk was so rich and good flavored, it took getting used to. I thought it was raw milk, until I talked to a professor about it one day, who confirmed it was processed according to the law. He said there is actually very little difference in flavor between raw milk and processed milk, provided it comes from the same animals, all raised, fed, and treated the same.

    Now, that’s important. Odds are the raw milk you tasted and liked so much was from a well-fed, well-treated herd, hept as healthy as possible to make the milk as clean and wholesome as possible. The herd may have been comprised of breeds specifically selected for milk flavor, rather than commercially average animals raised for milk, cheap veal, and beef. Chances are the milk was rushed to market that morning. By the time you get milk at the grocery store, it could be several days old and well on the way to rancidity.

  45. meehawl says:

    Is it legal to sell cheese made from unpasteurised human breast milk, or does it have to be heated first?

  46. hapless says:


    Sinclair’s The Jungle has about ten pages on the subject of food safety, and even then, only to the extent that it dovetails with the socialist propaganda filling the rest of its pages. Why do people bring it up in discussion of irrational food safety regulations?

  47. ChaosMotor says:

    People seem to forget that we ate homemade cheese and drank unpasteurized milk for tens of thousands of years before the FDA and inspectors were around to ‘save’ us from ourselves.

    Regulation of large businesses is absolutely necessary, but regulation of home-businesses (who depend more on reputation than market capitalization) only strangles the small businessman, and props up the mega-corp who can afford to pay off the inspectors.

  48. bluegus32 says:

    @ChaosMotor: Course, I think you forget that back when we ate unpasteurized milk, the average life span was 25 years.

  49. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:


  50. HaxRomana says:

    Kind of brings new meaning to “Cheese it, it’s the fuzz.”

  51. Celeste says:

    @speedwell: I’ll buy that. Now if only I could find a grocery store that had milk as fresh and tasty as the University of Georgia… until then, I’ll have to stick to raw milk sources, because even the overpriced organics they have at the grocery store don’t taste as good.

    @bluegus32: of course, you forget that back then we also didn’t have refrigeration or modern sterilization methods. Nor did we have smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps and pertussis whipped.

  52. SoCalGNX says:

    The swap meet has recently introduced “free tacos”. Wonder what meat is in them? (is your cat missing?)

  53. mrearly2 says:

    “Illegally produced is cheese is (a) serious threat to public health,” says CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura.–

    Wrong! Legality of a product makes no difference in its quality. Kawamura is saying that legally-produced cheese is safe, and illegal is not. What logic!?
    The threat here, most likely, is that illegal cheese producers are using raw milk to make cheese, whereas the legal cheese is made with the highly-inferior treated milk (pasteurized, homo-genized, etc.) and they can’t allow that.
    Raw milk products contain vitamins, enzymes and bacteria (mostly beneficial) and is (usually) not a danger to your health. As long as cleanliness is observed in the production of milk and milk products, there shouldn’t be a health issue.
    On the other hand, processed milk is not healthy for anyone.
    Pasteurizing destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamins, denatures (damages) fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria and promotes pathogens. Pasteurized cow’s milk is the number one allergic food in this country.
    Pasteurization has been associated with a number of symptoms and illnesses ranging from diarrhea, cramps and gastrointestinal bleeding to heart disease, cancer and arteriosclerosis.
    Homogenization: When fat globules are forcibly broken up by mechanical means, it allows an enzyme associated with milk fat, known as xanthine oxidase, to become free and penetrate the intestinal wall. Once xanthine oxidase gets through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, it is capable of creating scar damage to the heart and arteries, which in turn may stimulate the body to release cholesterol into the blood in an attempt to lay a protective fatty material on the scarred areas. This can lead to arteriosclerosis. It should be noted that this effect is not a problem with natural (unhomogenized) cow milk. In unhomogenized milk this enzyme is normally excreted from the body without much absorption.
    People! don’t keep swallowing the propaganda from the government and milk producers–educate yourselves, by searching the Web for articles and books on the subject!

  54. SoCalGNX says:

    Pasturization, homogenization etc. have nothing to do with this issue. The cheese was not produced under any standards of any kind. You don’t know where it came from, how it was produced or anything else. You don’t know the cleanliness of the production area nor the person who handled it.


  55. Javert says:

    @SoCalGNX: Exactly. Thank you for stating what I thought would be obvious but is not.
    @mrearly2: Before telling people to do research, maybe you could offer citations for your claims as you are the one who seems to be taking the position contrary to most peoples’ knowledge. I just did a web search and did not find one research paper supporting your position. Found lots of blogs and web sites that I did not recognize but no science. Please, list some papers to support your position. It is too easy to say ‘x is so and I have proof so look it up.’ If you are going to take such positions, you really should cite your sources rather than going off on a position without any support. Do not take this as an attack on your position, as I found it very interesting…this is more of a critique on your arguing method. When taking a contrary to general knowledge position, please list your own sources and do not tell the readers to look it up for themselves. It turns your argument into a rant rather than a factually based position. Thanks.

  56. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    @mrearly2: “As long as cleanliness is observed in the production of milk and milk products, there shouldn’t be a health issue.”

    So… how do we know if “cleanliness is observed”? We send inspectors around. How do we know if unlicensed (i.e. “bathtub”) cheesemakers are using safe production techniques? We don’t, since the people who do inspections don’t know about them. Seriously, this ain’t rocket science.

    As for your rant about unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk: I’m with @Javert. Put up citations from reputable sources (as opposed to mentioning unspecified websites) or put a cork in it.

  57. Dervish says:

    @Javert: Yes, thank you. Uncited claims are a major pet peeve.

  58. snidelywhiplash says:

    I don’t really have anything useful to add, just wanted to say that “Bathtub Cheese” would be a cool band name.