A California dairy that sells USDA certified organic raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products is voluntarily recalling its whole milk — that expired on Jan. 23 and 26 — in collaboration with state officials. Fresno-based Organic Pastures Dairy Co. posted the recall on its website and Facebook page Thursday. The dairy has recalled products at least four times since 2006 because state tests showed foodborne pathogens. In four additional instances in the past decade Organics Pastures’ organic raw milk products have been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks by state and federal officials. “This is not a state mandated recall,” according to the company’s notice. “This is a voluntary recall being placed by the Organic Pastures team. However, we are working in collaboration with the state and will continue to have open communications with them. “We test and hold all of our products prior to release. We have reason to believe that some tests yielded unsatisfactory false negative results. In a cautionary response, we request that this product be destroyed.” The recall includes:
- Organic Pastures whole, raw milk with a Jan. 23 use-by date and the lot code 20160105-1; and
- Organic Pastures whole, raw milk with a Jan. 26 use-by date and the lot code 20160106-2.
The operators of Organic Pastures said in the recall notice that they are certain the recalled lots did not reach Southern California, but other distribution information was less specific. The company is not offering customers refunds, but will issue credits or replace recalled products. “This product may have been released to the Northern and Central Coast areas of California,” according to the recall notice. “If you have any milk with these lot codes, please discard and contact the Organic Pastures team. … If you have any questions, please contact Marcy Oliver, account manager for Organic Pastures, 559-846-9732 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.” California state law and public warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration all include strong language about the dangers of consuming so called raw dairy products, which are not pasteurized. The Organic Pastures Dairy Co. website includes statements in direct contradiction of many of the warnings and statements from the state and federal governments. Mark McAfee, founder and president of Organic Pastures, formed the non-profit Raw Milk Institute in response to what the institute’s website refers to as a “nutritional civil rights movement.” Points and counterpoints Organic Pastures: “There are misleading reports of deaths caused by drinking raw milk. The fact is, these tragic deaths were not caused by drinking raw milk intended for human consumption but ‘improperly pasteurized milk’ from milk intended to be pasteurized, or from improperly thermalized milk where cleanliness standards are much less strict than for raw dairy standards.” The CDC: “From 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and two deaths. Most of these illnesses were caused by Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, or Listeria. “Because not all cases of foodborne illness are recognized and reported, the actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is greater.” California Public Health: “Cases of Salmonella Dublin infections in the 1970s into early 1980s that were associated with raw milk consumption. One published investigation in 1979 documented 113 patients with 89 hospitalizations and 22 deaths. Several patients had a serious underlying disease such as leukemia or lymphoma that might have predisposed them to a more severe outcome.” Organic Pastures: “Raw milk from cows is just like milk from humans … Raw cow’s milk is a great food for toddlers once they have stopped nursing from their mother, or as a supplement to mother’s milk.” The FDA: “If you are pregnant, consuming raw milk — or foods made from raw milk, such as Mexican-style cheese like Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco — can harm your baby even if you don’t feel sick.” California state law: Raw dairy products to carry this 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 and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity.” California Public Health: “The risk of severe disease, hospitalization, or death from consuming raw milk or raw dairy products is greater for children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.” The CDC: “It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 104 outbreaks from 1998-2011 with information on the patients’ ages available, 82% involved at least one person younger than 20 years old.” Organic Pastures: “Raw milk is a low risk food for illness if produced responsibly. … No foods, including pasteurized milk, can make such claims.” The CDC: “Raw milk can cause serious infections. … Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1998 and 2011 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 79 percent were due to raw milk or (raw) cheese. “… States that allow the legal sale of raw milk for human consumption have more raw milk-related outbreaks of illness than states that do not allow raw milk to be sold legally.” California Public Health: “Raw milk and raw dairy products are inherently unsafe to consumers because they may contain one or more types of bacteria that can cause mild to severe illnesses. These bacteria include Brucella, Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, Salmonella species, and Yersinia.” Organic Pastures: “It is important to consider the benefits of unprocessed ‘raw’ milk versus the potential risk for illness. Pathogens — bad bugs — are everywhere in our environment. Raw milk is a super-food…” The CDC: “Many people who chose raw milk thinking they would improve their health instead found themselves — or their loved ones — sick in a hospital for several weeks fighting for their lives from infections caused by germs in raw milk. “There are no health benefits from drinking raw milk that cannot be obtained from drinking pasteurized milk that is free of disease-causing bacteria. The process of pasteurization of milk has never been found to be the cause of chronic diseases, allergies, or developmental or behavioral problems.” The FDA: “As a science-based regulatory agency, the FDA looks to the scientific literature for information on benefits and risks associated with raw milk. While the perceived nutritional and health benefits of raw milk consumption have not been scientifically substantiated, the health risks are clear. … “Pasteurizing milk does not cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins. Raw milk does not kill dangerous pathogens by itself. Pasteurization does not reduce milk’s nutritional value.” The past decade at Organic Pastures Previous recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks linked to Organic Pastures in the past decade include: October 2015 – Organic Pastures raw milk recall and quarantine after CDFA inspectors found Campylobacter as a result of product testing conducted as part of routine inspection and sample collection at the facility. September 2012 – Organic Pastures raw milk recall and quarantine after CDFA inspectors found Campylobacter bacteria as a result of product testing conducted as part of routine inspection and sample collection at the facility. January-April 2012 – Organic Pastures products linked to campylobacter outbreak. Raw milk, raw skim milk, raw cream and raw butter were recalled and the dairy quarantined after the confirmed detection of campylobacter bacteria in raw cream. State officials identified at least 10 people with campylobacter infections throughout California. They reported consuming Organic Pastures raw milk prior to illness onset. Their median age was 11.5 years, with six younger than 18. The age range was nine months to 38 years. August-October 2011 — Organic Pastures products linked to E. coli outbreak. A cluster of five young children with E. coli O157:H7 infections with matching pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns was identified. Illness onsets were from Aug. 25 to Oct. 25. All five children reported drinking commercially available raw milk from a single dairy, Organic Pastures, and had no other common exposures. Investigations by the CDPH’s Food and Drug Branch and the California Department of Food and Agriculture showed environmental samples collected at Organic Pastures yielded E. coli O157:H7 isolates that had PFGE patterns indistinguishable from the patient isolates. September 2008 — Organic Pastures Grade A raw cream recall and quarantine after state testing and confirmation testing detected campylobacter bacteria in the cream. September 2007 — Organic Pastures Grade A raw cream recall and quarantine following laboratory confirmation of the presence of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. CDFA inspectors found the bacteria as a result of product testing conducted as part of routine inspection and sample collection at the facility. November-December 2007 — Organic Pastures cows linked to Campylobacter outbreak. State officials found 50 strains of Campylobacter jejuni plus Campylobacter coli, Campylobacter fetus, Campylobacter hyointetinalis and Campylobacter lari when they cultured feces from Organic Pastures dairy cow feces. There was only one patient isolate available for DNA fingerprinting, but it was identical to isolates from four cattle fecal samples collected at Organic Pastures. September 2006 — Organic Pastures linked to E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Six sick children were identified by state officials. Four had culture-confirmed infections, one had a culture-confirmed infection and HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure and stroke), and one had HUS only. The median age of patients was 8 years, with a range of 6 to 18 years. Organic Pastures’ operators claimed the illnesses were linked to consumption of fresh spinach that was linked to a separate E. coli outbreak in 2006. However, the five children who consumed Organic Pastures’ products who had culture confirmation were laboratory matches to each other and the CDC reported their specific E. coli isolates “differed markedly from the patterns of the concurrent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak strain associated with spinach consumption.” (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)