A New Jersey company is recalling around 6,700 pounds of ricotta cheese on fears that it may be contaminated with the potentially fatal listeria bacteria.

Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin announced that the Georgia Department of Agriculture's food sampling programme had discovered listeria monocytogenes in Pinna Ricotta Salata cheese.

The Pinna Ricotta Salata cheese was sold as bulk cheese and consumer-size pre-cut pieces at retail stores. The voluntary recall includes all consumer-size pre-cut cheese with sell-by dates of 4 January to 20 February 2003. The date is stamped on the outer plastic wrapper of each piece of cheese. The cheese packed as bulk is coded on the outer shipping carton as PD 5-23-02.

"As far as we have been able to determine, Publix is the only grocery store chain in Georgia that received any of the cheese. We notified them immediately and they issued a company-wide alert for their stores to remove the product from their shelves. Anyone with this cheese may return it to the place of purchase for a refund," said Irvin.

Consumption of food contaminated with the listeria bacteria can cause fever, headaches and nausea and can lead to a potentially fatal condition called listeriosis. Listeriosis can cause miscarriages and stillbirths, and can be fatal to those with weak immune systems.

The bacteria can be killed by cooking food to a temperature of at least 71 degrees Celsius (160 Fahrenheit).