The owner of a California organic dairy is working with state officials to find the source of Salmonella that has twice this month caused recalls of his raw milk, even though he believes the state’s test results are not indicative of the safety of his unpasteurized dairy products.
The 500-cow operation, Organic Pastures Dairy Co. in Fresno, will remain under heightened scrutiny for the next several weeks, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) said Wednesday.
Late Monday, the department posted notice of a statewide recall of Organic Pastures brand raw milk, raw skim milk and raw cream with a “use by” date of June 1 because of positive Salmonella test results. State inspectors found the contamination during follow-up testing in response to similar findings earlier this month that also resulted in a statewide recall.
The first recall, posted May 9, was for Organic Pastures raw milk and raw cream that had a use- by date of May 18. CDFA inspectors found Salmonella contamination during product testing conducted as part of routine inspection and sample collection at the Fresno dairy.
California officials tested raw dairy products from Organic Pastures that were processed and packaged after the products recalled Monday were produced and all received negative results for Salmonella. No illnesses had been reported in connection to either batch of recalled unpasteurized products as of Wednesday, according to the department.
“However, CDFA will continue with an increased frequency of testing for pathogens over the next several weeks (at the dairy),” said department spokesman Steve Lyle.
“Increased testing will also include standard microbiological counts such as Standard Plate Count and Total Coliform Count. Those counts are done monthly on a routine basis and have not indicated a significant sanitation problem at the facility. The cause of the Salmonella remains unknown,” he added.
Organic Pastures founder and CEO Mark McAfee agreed that the cause of the Salmonella remains unknown and said Tuesday that he will continue to work with state officials to find possible sources, even though he believes his milk is clean.
“The coliform tests show extremely clean milk, some at less than 1 coliform,” McAfee said Tuesday. “There is no fecal contamination.
“This is an issue regarding conflicts in testing methodology,” he said. “The state uses BAM ‘Moore Swab,’ and our private, state-approved, third-party lab uses PCR-BAX. Our BAX PCR tests are negative and the state returns mostly negative and some positive tests. This level of bacteria is at the far bottom reaches of the detection limits.”
The BAM method refers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Bacteriological Analytical Manual modified Moore swab method, while the BAX tests referenced by McAfee are a trademarked line of rapid-result pathogen detection kits.
The CDFA’s Lyle did not comment on the testing methods. However, he did say that there aren’t any so-called state-approved private labs for testing dairy products for pathogens.
“CDFA is not aware of a state agency that issues approvals to private industry laboratories regarding the testing of dairy products for foodborne pathogens, and the commercial laboratory used by OPDC is not approved by CDFA to conduct official testing,” he said, adding, “While a commercial laboratory may be useful for a firm’s own quality control monitoring program, results from such testing do not supersede official CDFA sampling and laboratory findings.”
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