Organic Pastures raw dairy products are being recalled statewide in California and are subject to a quarantine order by California State Veterinarian Annette Whiteford.
The quarantine order came following notification by the California Department of Public Health that five children were infected, from August through October, with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7, the state said in a news release.
Under the recall, all Organic Pastures raw dairy products with the exception of cheese aged a minimum of 60 days are to be pulled immediately from retail shelves and consumers are strongly urged to dispose of any products remaining in their refrigerators.
Until further notice, Organic Pastures may not produce raw milk products for the retail market. The order also affects Organic Pastures raw butter, raw cream, raw colostrum, and a raw product labeled “Qephor,” state public health officials said.
Organic Pastures has had past food-safety challenges, including being implicated in a 2006 outbreak very similar to the current recall and outbreak, and civil litigation brought by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent it from distributing unpasteurized milk across California’s state lines.
The children who are ill are residents of Contra Costa, Kings, Sacramento, and San Diego counties, all in California.
Interviews with the families indicate that their only common reported food exposure was unpasteurized (raw) milk from Organic Pastures dairy. Three of the five children were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious condition that may lead to kidney failure.
There have been no deaths.
Surveys indicate that only about three percent of the public report drinking raw milk in any given week, so the finding that 100 percent of the infected children drank raw milk, combined with the absence of other common foods or animal exposures, indicates the Organic Pastures raw milk is the likely source of their infection, California public health officials said.
“While laboratory samples of Organic Pastures raw milk have not detected E. coli 0157:H7 contamination, the epidemiologic data collected by the California Department of Public Health link the illnesses to Organic Pastures raw milk,” state officials said.
The sale of raw milk is legal in California, although the great majority of milk consumed in the state is pasteurized. The state requires raw milk and raw milk products to carry the following warning on the label: “Warning – raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk dairy products may contain disease-causing micro-organisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these organisms include newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity.”
Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection may include abdominal cramps and often bloody diarrhea. Most infected people recover within a week; however, some may develop complications that require hospitalization. Young children and the elderly are at highest risk for HUS, the potentially life-threatening complication.
People who develop symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection after consuming unpasteurized milk or milk products should consult their health care provider. Physicians who have patients suspected of having HUS or E. coli O157:H7 infections should report them to the local health department.
CDFA milk and dairy foods safety experts said they have begun a complete inspection at Organic Pastures dairy – of all facets of operations, from the cows to the bottling plant.
Before the quarantine may be lifted, the facility must meet all sanitation requirements under state law. Additionally, state public health authorities said raw milk products will be tested to ensure compliance with regulatory standards.
Organic Pastures was the first raw milk dairy with certified organic pasture land in California. The dairy is located near Fresno in California’s San Joaquin Valley. It is family-owned.