Raw Milk Products Recalled + Recall Upheld After Children Sickened in California

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Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Organic Pastures raw milk has been quarantined in California. - FLICKR/GRONGAR
  • Flickr/grongar
  • Organic Pastures raw milk has been quarantined in California.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has upheld its recall of raw milk products, even though the dairy demanded the quarantine be lifted, saying tests show its milk is pathogen-free, according to the Associated Press.

Three children were hospitalized with E. coli infections after drinking Organic Pastures raw milk. The California Department of Public Health said the most recent one became ill on Oct. 25.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture announced the recall and quarantine Tuesday, even though the agency said lab samples of Organic Pastures raw milk had not detected the strain of E. coli that sickened the children. Samples of the milk consumed by the children also didn't reveal E. coli.

But interviews with the families of the five children infected with the strain between August and October indicated the only common food exposure was to Organic Pastures raw milk, state officials said. Since raw milk consumption is not common in the general population, officials said, it was unlikely that chance alone would explain the findings.

Organic Pastures Dairy Co. owner Mark McAfee appealed the order by State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Whiteford calling for the company to pull its raw milk, butter, cream, colostrum and "Qephor" from store shelves, but California upheld the recall late Wednesday.

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 company sells 2,400 gallons of raw milk a day in California. It does not ship any milk products to other states.

The sickened children are residents of Contra Costa, Kings, Sacramento and San Diego counties.

Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk across state lines but does allow states to regulate its sale within their borders. California permits the retail sale of unpasteurized milk from only two licensed facilities.

Raw milk is not pasteurized, a process that involves heating milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. Thirty states currently allow some sort of raw milk sales.

Raw milk enthusiasts say pasteurization kills bacteria beneficial to human health and argue that raw milk is medicinal and can treat everything from asthma to autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, warn that raw milk can cause illness or death, with infants, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems especially vulnerable.

From 1998 through 2008, the CDC reported 1,676 illnesses due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products. No deaths were reported.

Organic Pastures is currently undergoing a complete inspection and must be found to meet all state sanitation requirements before the quarantine can be lifted, said California Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman Steve Lyle. The agency tests the company's products on a monthly basis, Lyle said. In addition, McAfee said his company tests the products several times a week through an independent lab.

It's the second time the Fresno County dairy has been the subject of a recall. In 2006, Organic Pastures was ordered to stop selling unpasteurized milk products after four children were sickened with E.coli and three were hospitalized. In that case, officials also did not find any pathogens at the dairy and the company was allowed to sell the milk again.

Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.

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