Posted on September 25, 2006

Organic raw dairy producer disputes E. coli link

Company could be shut down for another two weeks

Organic Pastures Dairy Company said Monday that its raw, organic dairy products are not responsible for four children being infected with the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria.

“Our customers know this is bogus,” Kaleigh McAfee, vice president of marketing, told Sustainable Food News. “They know we are clean and green.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) said Friday that four children have now been infected with the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria, and linked the illnesses to an expanded list of organic raw dairy products made by Organic Pastures, based in Fresno, Calif.

The agency issued a statewide recall quarantine order on Thursday of the company’s whole and skim raw milk products after it linked the raw milk, which is not pasteurized, to the virulent bacteria in a 10-year old girl.

Further investigations detected two additional bacterial illnesses in children consuming raw milk, one a 7-year old boy, and the other an 8-year old girl.

On Friday the state linked a fourth case of E. coli illness in an 8-year old boy to Organic Pastures’ raw cow colostrum; and “extended specifically” the list of recall products to include raw butter, raw buttermilk, and raw whey, and “extended generally” to all raw dairy and colostrum products except for aged cheese.

Stores in California were advised to pull all products immediately from retail shelves, and consumers were told to dispose of any remaining product in refrigerators. The state also ordered Organic Pastures to indefinitely shut down production.

No E. coli bacteria have been found in Organic Pastures’ products to date, CDFA spokesperson Steve Lyle told SFN. But in the state of California, epidemiological data pointing to a connection between the company’s raw dairy products and the E. coli infections is “sufficient” to order the recall and shut down the company’s operations, he said.

Epidemiology, considered a cornerstone methodology of public health research, studies factors affecting the health and illness of individuals and populations, and serves as the foundation and logic of interventions made in the interest of public health.

McAfee said the only reason CDFA is forcing the company to recall its products is because the agency is “using an abundance of caution” in the wake of the deadly outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria in fresh spinach.

McAfee said its operations could start up again as early as Wednesday, but disputed that claim.

“That is not consistent with our view at this point in the investigation,” he told SFN, adding it could be up to two weeks before the company resumes operations, maybe longer.

“It will take as long as it takes,” he said.

McAfee maintains the company’s products are not the source of the illnesses.

“It’s not our milk. [CDFA] told us it’s not our milk. The media is taking the story and running with it,” she said. “The data shows we have never had E. coli in the past, and I can tell you we will not have it in the future.”

Lyle said the agency is now waiting on tests from seven retail samples of Organic Pastures, which it expects later this week.

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