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'Milking' outbreak for all it's worth (commentary)'Milking' outbreak for all it's worth (commentary)

4 Min Read
'Milking' outbreak for all it's worth (commentary)

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.

To generate a vigorous discussion, simply pen a piece about horse slaughter or the dangers of raw milk. Once again, I have been delivered a prospect I just cannot ignore.

Organic Pastures Dairy Co. of Fresno, Cal., has been the subject of many recalls due to 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, endangering their health and even their lives.

If you were to go to Organic Pastures Dairy's website, you would see the proud declaration: "We DON'T pasteurize, homogenize or otherwise alter this perfect, nutritious food."

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, albeit accidental, does "alter" the food.

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

When I clicked on the link, a message popped up saying 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, eight people have been confirmed to be infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 in the most recent outbreak precipitating the Feb. 5 recall. They 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). It's not uncommon to see HUS with foodborne illness from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. HUS can cause permanent kidney damage and even death. The illness also can be excruciatingly painful.

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

Yet, we allow dairy farmers to sell dangerous raw milk for consumption by children. Over the years, more states have been allowing this to happen.

Here is the caveat that made me pen another column about raw milk: The founder and chief executive officer of Organic Pastures Dairy told Food Safety News correspondent Coral Beach that the California Department of Public Health's list "is garbage and not accurate." In his email, he goes on to deny that there was ever a case of HUS and stated that not all of the patients had E. coli infections.

I am guessing that 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 U.S. Department of Agriculture — 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 lawsuit if it 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 on Feb. 5, according to the California Department of Public Health, had expiration dates of Jan. 23 and Jan. 26. It's probably too little too late, but I'm sure they needed to be certain before asking for a recall.

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

Stay healthy, my friends, and do not drink raw milk.

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

Volume:88 Issue:03

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