Pride & Joy Creamery was back to bottling its organic grass-fed raw milk on or about April 4 after the Toppenish, WA dairy handled the scare resulting from E. coli being found in its plastic jugs collected from retail shelves.
“We want to assure everyone that no one has been sick from drinking our milk,” said Allen and Cheryl Voortman and Ricky and Cindy Umipig, co-owners of the business officially named Pride & Joy Puget Sound, LLC.
In their letter to customers, they said: “The only time a problem showed up was at the WSDA lab,” referring to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Pride and Joy sent samples taken on its own to WSU labs in Puyallup and to Silliker, Inc a Mérieux NutriSciences company, in California.
The owners said those samples sent to outside labs all “came up clean.” It then enlisted the lawyers at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which sent WSDA a letter on March 22nd claiming the positive test results does not mean the raw milk was adulteration under Washington law.
The Falls Church, VA-based law shop argued the WSDA test did not prove the shiga toxin was actually in the raw milk.
WSDA is responsible for regulating 465 licensed dairies, 124 milk processing plants, and 39 retail raw milk operations. “We inspect all of them, though retail raw milk inspections also involve additional testing for pathogens since they are not pasteurized,” said WSDA spokesman Hector Castro.
As for WSDA labs, Castro says collection and sampling protocols are extensive and closely followed. It meets global standards for testing and calibration, and is accredited and used extensively by FDA for food outbreak investigations in the Pacific Northwest.
Pride & Joy Creamery invited WSDA inspectors back and 12 additional samples were collected for the lab. All of those came back clean and the state green-lighted the dairy to resume operations.
The incident was definitely costly for the dairy. It recalled all its production from Feb. 10 to Feb. 24 after the E. coli contamination was found in plastic jugs on retail shelves. At the time the E. coli showed up, WSDA was investigating Samonella infections in two people who reported drinking Pride & Joy raw milk before becoming ill.
At that time Cheryl Voortman claimed the contamination was caused by others in the supply chain or state inspectors.
However, before it resumed operations, Pride & Joy also engaged a third-party sanitation specialist and an attending veterinarian to help them “develop a herd health action plan,” Casto told Food Safety News. “We confirmed that certain remediation efforts were taken to address sanitation concerns and one of our vets is working with the attending veterinarian to finalize their herd health plan,” he said.
In its letter to customers, Pride & Joy said it will work over the next week and half to get everyone back in stock. It will start by fulfilling orders with drop off groups that already paid the week it shut down, and then getting back on store shelves.
“We didn’t want to stress out the cows while all of this was happening , so we didn’t tell them was was going on,” they told customers.
The Pride & Joy owners thanked those who supported them “spiritually, financially and through the power of numbers defending us to the WSDA, and writing letters to our State Representatives. We cannot stress enough to you much it means to see the passion you have for our product.”
At the time they removed their product from the market, Pride & Joy was fetching $10 per gallon for raw milk sold over the internet and $13 per gallon at retail stores.
Editor’s Note: Food Safety News Managing Editor Coral Beach contributed significantly to this story.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)