For the second time in four months, California has issued a statewide recall and quarantine on dairy products from Fresno-based Organic Pastures Dairy.
Both of this year’s recalls were triggered by the detection of Campylobacter bacteria in samples of the dairy’s raw cream. In the first recall, imposed on May 10, the bacteria was also found in a sample of raw butter and four samples of cow manure from the milking herd.
At least 10 cases of campylobacteriosis between January and the end of April were linked to consumption of these products, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Victims reported consuming raw milk products from Organic Pastures prior to illness.
The dairy has had a series of problems with pathogens in its raw milk products over the past few years.
In November of last year, the dairy was implicated in an E. coli outbreak when five children who were sickened with the same strain of E. coli all reported drinking raw milk from Organic Pastures, with no other common exposure. Environmental samples from OP facilities revealed the same strain of E. coli that had infected these children. Investigation into this outbreak lead to a quarantine and recall of all products sold by the dairy except for cheese aged longer than 60 days.
Products from the dairy were subject to 3 other recalls and linked to 2 other outbreaks between 2006 and 2008. In 2006, E. coli infections among 6 children were linked to Organic Pastures’ raw milk. Two of these victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli infection that leads to kidney failure.
Unlike the May 2012 recall, which targeted all of the dairy’s milk and milk products, including butter, this recent recall targets only the dairy’s raw whole milk, raw skim (non-fat) milk and raw cream bearing the code date of SEP 13.
In its press release about the recall, the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture is asking that the products be pulled immediately from retail shelves, and consumers are strongly urged to dispose of any products named in the recall that might still be in their refrigerators or freezers.
No illnesses had been reported as of Sept. 6, according to the press release.
Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill any “manure-related” bacteria that may be in the milk.
Mark McAfee, co-owner of Organic Pastures, the largest raw-milk dairy in the nation, beat the state to the punch when he announced the recall on the dairy’s Facebook site more than 12 hours before the state issued its press release.
He told Food Safety News that the state informed him at 4 p.m. Sept. 5 that routine testing had revealed campylobacter in one sample of the dairy’s cream. Soon after, he posted the news on Facebook. In that posting, the dairy asked consumers to return the specified products to the store or farmers market where they bought it for a full refund.
The posting also informed customers that the dairy is still operating.
“There will be no interruption in your milk deliveries,” the posting assured customers.
Organic Pastures distributes its raw milk and raw milk products throughout the state of California. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits raw milk from being shipped across state borders.
In an interview with Food Safety News, McAfee described the recall as “not much of a recall” since most of the milk and cream has already been consumed and also because the recalled products only went to a few locations in Los Angeles.
He summed up the state’s decision to issue a recall and quarantine as “perhaps overly cautious but appropriate.”
“I think it shows we’ve achieved some “well-earned respect” from the state,” he said.
“This is just a little bruise,” he said, referring back to the recall. “There’s no milk on the shelves to recall.”
Even so, some of the customers’ comments on Facebook said they still had some of the SEP 13 products and intended to drink them. Two of them were pregnant women.
McAfee said that the state found campylobacter in only one of the cream samples but none of the milk samples, whereas the dairy’s own tests revealed no campylobacter in any of the samples, including the cream.
He also pointed out that all of the milk samples the state tested met the state’s requirements for zero pathogens.
As for why the cream tested positive and not the milk products, McAfee said, “We’re all scratching our heads over that one.”
If it were a case of cross-contamination, McAfee said it might be the eggs they collect every day from chicken coops out in a field, which is one-half mile away from where the dairy cows are pastured. But McAfee said that that doesn’t seem likely.
He described campylobacter, which is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States, as a “sneaky bug . . . a rogue little wild thing that doesn’t follow the rules.” He said that unlike other foodborne pathogens, it dies in the presence of oxygen.
According to the California Food and Agriculture Department, symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. Most people with campylobacteriosis recover completely. Illness usually occurs 2 to 5 days after exposure to campylobacter and lasts about a week. The illness is usually mild and some people with campylobacteriosis have no symptoms at all.
However, in some people with compromised immune systems, it can cause a serious, life-threatening infection. A small percentage of people may have joint pain and swelling after infection. In addition, a rare disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes weakness and paralysis, can occur several weeks after the initial illness.
Anyone who consumed Organic Pastures’ milk products with the cap date of SEP 13 who is experiencing these symptoms is urged to contact his or her doctor.
In California, state law requires that raw milk and raw milk products bear the following warning on the label: “WARNING: Raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk dairy products may contain disease-causing microorganisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these organisms include newborns, infants, the elderly and pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity.”
Demand for Raw Milk
Demand for raw milk is so strong, said McAfee, that he intends to add more cows to his herd of 400 milking cows, with the goal of milking 500 cows in 1 1/2 years. After that, he’d have to buy or lease more land if he wanted to expand any further.
Raw milk advocates believe that raw milk contains important enzymes and vitamins and helps prevent lactose intolerance, allergies and a range of diseases, among them diabetes and cancer.
On the other side of the coin, the FDA warns that raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.
Yet demand for raw milk continues to grow while demand for pasteurized fluid milk continues to fall. In fact, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that U.S. fluid milk sales have reached their lowest level in decades.
It turns out that even though U.S. consumers drink about the same amount of liquids as they did in the past, they’re drinking a lot less milk. According to the USDA, whole milk sales in 2011 were less than half of what they were in the early 1980s.
Consumers now have a wide range of beverages to choose from — among them bottled water, bottled teas, and sports drinks — not to mention soy, rice and almond milks, none of which are actually made from milk.
“Milk has lost out to other other beverages, primarily bottled water,” Vivien Godfrey, CEO of the Milk Processor Education Program, told the Sentinel.
But that doesn’t mean people aren’t consuming a lot of milk — it just means they’re turning to products such as yogurts and cheeses instead of fluid milk. In fact, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, yogurt consumption is up 400 percent from what it was 30 years ago. Cheese consumption has also risen.
McAfee said that raw milk is plugging into a need that people have for a dairy product that they perceive as healthy.
“It is evolving,” he said, referring to the milk industry. “Pasteurized milk is a good fit when it’s used as an ingredient and when probiotics are added, but it’s falling in demand when it’s sold as fluid milk.”
Go here for more information about raw milk.
Go here for information about other recalls of Organic Pastures milk and milk products.© Food Safety News