It's called: 'Milking' an outbreak for all it's worth (commentary)

Sometimes, being a food safety blogger is just too easy, and that is because the industry keeps providing the material.

Sometimes, being a food safety blogger is just too easy, and that is because the industry keeps handing me material that I could not have dreamt up all by myself.

If a food safety blogger wants to generate a vigorous discussion, he or she simply needs to pen a piece about horse slaughter or the dangers of raw milk.

Once again, I have been delivered a prospect I just cannot ignore any longer.

Organic Pastures Dairy Co. of Fresno, Cal., has been the subject of many recalls for contaminated milk.

Public records reveal that the company issued recalls of milk for possible campylobacter contamination in May and September 2012 and again in October 2015.

The company also issued recalls for possible Escherichia coli O157:H7 contamination in its milk in 2011, 2012 and, most recently, on Feb. 5, 2016.

Six recalls in four years is a lot, yet people continue to feed this stuff to their kids and endanger their health and even their lives.

If you were to go to the company’s website, you would see their proud declaration that: “We DON’T pasteurize, homogenize or otherwise alter this perfect, nutritious food.” (The caps are theirs.)

I would question the use of the word “perfect” if the milk might contain campylobacter and E. coli. I would also say the addition of bacteria, although accidental, does “alter” the food.

One bothersome finding on the webpage is that there is so little to read there. There is a very nice piece about the family, and the multiple generations involved, and how they got into organic, but the only other link on the page is to “The Raw Milk Difference.”

When I clicked on the link, the message that popped up said the link had been moved or deleted. Is this a coincidence, or is it intentional? I don’t know, but it sure is curious.

According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), there have been eight people confirmed to be infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 in the most recent outbreak precipitating the Feb. 5 recall. All became ill in January, and the investigation is still ongoing.

Of the eight, seven were children, and two of the victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

HUS is not uncommon in foodborne illness from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. It can cause permanent kidney damage and even death. The illness can also be quite painful.

We have laws that say children cannot purchase nicotine or alcohol products. We also have laws in most states that say children must be immunized before starting elementary school, they must be in a child restraint seat when riding in a car until a certain age or size, and some even require wearing a helmet when riding a bike.

Yet, we allow dairy farmers to sell raw, dangerous milk for consumption by children.

And more states are allowing this to happen over the years.

But here is the caveat that made me pen another blog about raw milk.

The founder and CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. told Food Safety News correspondent Coral Beach that “the CDPH list is garbage and not accurate.”

He goes on in his email to deny that there was ever a case of HUS and stated that not all the patients had E. coli infections.

I am guessing the courts will eventually settle this disagreement. People with children suffering from HUS generally become very litigious, even if they bought the milk themselves.

Having been the chief medical officer of a state public health department and the undersecretary for food safety at the USDA, two positions that made me the political appointee overseeing food recalls, I think I will take California’s numbers at face value.

The department would not risk a law suit if they did not have the proof in hand, but since the investigation is still ongoing, no final report has been written.

The raw milk that was recalled Feb. 5, according to the CDPH, had expiration dates of Jan. 23 and Jan. 26.

It's probably too little too late, but again, they needed to be certain before asking for a recall.

Then again, reading the statement from the CEO, perhaps there was a little foot dragging going on.

Stay healthy, my friends, and do not drink raw milk; or eat raw oysters or raw meat.

*Dr. Richard Raymond is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food safety.

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