Organic Pastures Dairy Co., the nation’s largest raw dairy said it is recalling all its raw dairy products after it was informed by public health authorities that five children were sickened by E.coli 0157:H7. Three were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome.
The Fresno dairy is under quarantine and, according to a press release from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, “Until further notice, Organic Pastures may not produce raw milk products for the retail market. The order also affects Organic Pastures raw butter, raw cream, raw colostrum, and a raw product labeled ‘Qephor.'”
The CDFA release added, “Interviews with the families indicate that the only common reported food exposure is unpasteurized (raw) milk from Organic Pastures dairy. Three of the five children were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that may lead to kidney failure. There have been no deaths. Surveys indicate that only about three percent of the public report drinking raw milk in any given week so finding 100% of these children drank raw milk and the absence of other common foods or animal exposures indicates the Organic Pastures raw milk is the likely source of their infection. ”
Two of the children were reported by the authorities to still be hospitalized, according to OPDC’s owner, Mark McAfee.
He said he was notified at noon today by the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture that “over the course of an eight-week period” in August, September, and October, five children who had been reported to have consumed raw milk tested positive for E. Coli O157:H7.
According to McAfee, all pathogen tests completed on the dairy’s products by the public health authorities and a private lab commissioned by OPDC have been negative. In addition, “It has been reported to us by the California Department of Public Health that as of today all products collected from the ill patients have been negative for E. Coli O157:H7.”
One mother of a sick child, Melissa DeVore, reported on the OPDC Facebook page, “My son was one of the E.coli children. He was a lucky one who didn’t have to be hospitalized. My heart goes out to those whose children were in the ICU.” She added: “It is my belief drinking raw milk, mostly OPDC, was the reason he didn’t have a more serious reaction to the bacteria. I have and will continue to use your product when it is available again.”
McAfee said he doesn’t know the other four families affected, but hopes they will post on OPDC’s Facebook page or otherwise alert him of their identities. “As a family owned company, my wife and I would like to reach out to the families of these affected loved ones. Our heart goes out to them for a speedy recovery.”
McAfee also said he hopes to have results tomorrow of environmental tests conducted on OPDC facilities by public health and CDFA personnel today. Of the regulators, McAfee added, “Everyone has treated us with respect. We have dedicated ourselves to find out fully what has happened.”
He added that OPDC is having manure tests carried out on all his dairy’s 400 cows.
Today’s incident, of course, brings to mind a similar set of circumstances in September 2006, when six children were allegedly sickened by E.coli O157:H7 in OPDC milk. Two of the children were hospitalized at that time, as well, with serious illnesses.
One thing that seems to be different this time around is McAfee’s reaction. In 2006, he expressed strong denials about the likely connection to OPDC, and the incident became a source of long-standing controversy. This time, he seems determined to be cooperative and get to the bottom of any problems.
“We don’t guarantee perfection,” he said. “We aren’t going to shudder from responsibility.”
Recalls never come at a good time, but this one seems especially awkward, coming as it does just as McAfee was in the process of launching the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI), which is geared toward promoting raw milk safety and research.
In the meantime, comments on the OPDC Facebook page suggest not even a little bit of fright among customers over the outbreak. Rather, there seems a combination of concern about those sickened, and worry about where customers will get their raw milk during the recall. Sarah Romanov said, “So sad about this! Praying it gets resolved soon so we can get more of your delicious milk…my daughter (18 months) drinks it every day! Not sure what I’m going to give her in the meantime…maybe coconut milk?
And Crystal Bauman: “We are sad to hear that, and had an order in for 4 half gallons to pick up tomorrow at our local co-op. We will be buying it as soon as it is available and hope this gets cleared up soon. We love raw milk and are grateful that you supply it.”
Some seemed in denial. Elaine Mudrick Tom stated: “So, I’m assuming that if I go to the store tomorrow to stock up, that’s it’s already recalled. I pray for those sick children for whatever DID make them sick, but it wasn’t OPDC.”
McAfee said he hopes to have raw dairy products back on the market “in seven days.”