Thursday, February 25, 2010

Posts From The Past: Organic Pastures, Happy Cows & E. coli O157:H7

The raw milk debate continues unabated, more than 18 months after I first posted this article.

When a large, multi-state food poisoning outbreak is in progress, it's easy for a second outbreak to go virtually unnoticed, especially when the same microbe – in this case E. coli O157:H7 – is responsible for both. That's what would have happened in 2006, except for the vigilance of California's health authorities and the technology of microbiological "fingerprinting".

On September 8, 2006, Wisconsin health authorities reported to CDC that they had identified a small cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses – all due to the identical strain of the microbe. Within a week, Oregon and New Mexico were added to the list of affected states, and the source of the outbreaks had been traced to bagged spinach.

The 2006 spinach outbreak had begun. Ultimately, 199 people in 26 states would report an illness with the outbreak strain. Just over one-half (102) of the victims would be hospitalized, and 31 would develop kidney failure and other consequences of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Three people would die.

While the spinach outbreak was in full bloom, the California Department of Health Services received reports of five children who had been infected with E. coli O157:H7. Two of the children were hospitalized, one of them suffering from HUS. A sixth child was also hospitalized with HUS, but E. coli O157:H7 was not lab-confirmed.

The E. coli O157:H7 cultures obtained from the five lab-confirmed victims matched each other, but had a different molecular fingerprint from the microbe that was behind the spinach outbreak. When investigators questioned the victims and their parents, they quickly found a common link. All six children had consumed raw milk or (in one case) raw colostrum from Organic Pastures Dairy Co., California's largest producer of organic raw milk for retail sale.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, on September 21st, ordered a state-wide recall of Organic Pastures' whole and skim raw milk, raw cream and raw colostrum, and barred the company from producing raw milk. The production quarantine was lifted on September 29th, but the company was still forbidden from bottling its milk and cream for retail sale.

The owner of Organic Pastures, Mark McAfee, has always denied that his dairy was responsible for the six illnesses. In a telephone interview reported by at the time of the outbreak, McAfee claimed he had been told that some of the children had eaten spinach and undercooked hamburger. And he contended that one of those foods had made them ill – despite the lab evidence that the children were infected with a different strain of E. coli O157:H7 than the one responsible for the spinach outbreak.

But Mark McAfee is an honorable man, and we should believe him.
The Organic Pastures web site boasts that "In more than 32 million servings, and more than five years of intensive testing, not one single pathogen has been found or detected. Not one person has complained to the state of CA that they have become sickened by an OPDC product."

Yet victims of the 2006 outbreak specifically reported drinking Organic Pastures raw milk and raw colostrum. And California ordered a recall of Organic Pastures raw cream in 2007 after finding Listeria monocytogenes in a sample.

But Mark McAfee is an honorable man, and we should believe him.
After California lifted its quarantine order, McAfee celebrated his exoneration. In his opinion, without the State having found the outbreak strain in his milk, in his dairy environment, or in his cows, there was no evidence that Organic Pastures was responsible for the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.

According to the CDC report released this week, however, the production lot that was linked to the outbreak was no longer available for testing. Also, non-outbreak strains of the microbe were recovered from the dairy herd.

But Mark McAfee is an honorable man, and we should believe him.
Organic Pastures claims that the total bacterial counts in its raw milk are consistently below the State's limit of 15,000 bacteria per milliliter – even during the period covered by the 2006 outbreak. The State lab, though, found numerous samples containing counts in excess of the 15,000 limit – several of them in excess of 1,000,000 per milliliter.

Organic Pastures implies that its products have been negative for E. coli O157:H7 since 2002; however, the pdf file accessed from the same web page shows that testing for the pathogen only began about one month before the start of the 2006 outbreak.

But Mark McAfee is an honorable man, and we should believe him.
FDA prohibits the interstate sale of raw milk for human consumption. Organic Pastures says on its web site that it does not ship raw milk to customers outside of California. McAfee has exploited a loophole in the FDA regulations, which treat raw colostrum as a
“non-dairy dietary supplement." Organic Pastures' Superlite Colostrum, containing 95% raw milk and 5% raw colostrum, is shipped to customers nationwide.

But Mark McAfee is an honorable man, and we should believe him.

Or should we believe the families of five children who were sickened in the 2006 outbreak and who have filed lawsuits against Mark McAfee?

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  1. OMG,
    Grow up, I have drank OP Raw Colostrum for years...
    Look somewhere else...
    Look at your own unhealthy homecooking practices, and leave the farmwrs that spend their hard earned money to defend your ugly hateful comments even though you don't have a clue what you are talking about!!!!
    Prove what you have said, or just plain SHUT UP e
    either drink the milk and stay healthy, or get sink from eating over processed dead food!!!!!!
    Let's see what you look like post a picture, and give us your daily food log!!!!
    I'm sure we would be suprised...
    Majority of the people who complain are either sick, or Obese...
    Get it together...

  2. I am a 72yo GR8GRMPA and drink OPD raw milk by the gallons and have worked on dairy farms as a kid.....I'm healthy am on NO lady, you are barking up the wrong tree. You are either very ill informed or beholden to a govt or corp enity. Please, retract your wrong assumptions as any moral decent person would.
    Don Chappell SR

  3. WELL SAID!! Thank you both. I am disappointed that Whole Foods is no longer selling Organic Pastures product:( But I make the treck to San Francisco's Coop--Rainbow-- where they have a full assortment of raw milk products and other whole foods!

  4. I'm sold on the risks of raw milk. The problem is that I'm also sold on the benefits of raw milk (except for the purported benefits of calcium in either raw or pasteurised milk). How about testing the milk at home. You can buy kits that test for E. coli, Listeria, and salmonela, and the kits are made by reputable companies. Buy the raw milk and take it home, test it, and if it passes all three tests, drink it. Would that work?

  5. @Anonymous.- The problem is that these test kits are designed for use by trained microbiology lab technicians. Also, samples much be enriched (incubated to allow the numbers of Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria to increase to a level where the test kit can detect them) for at least several hours before the test can be run. If you found a positive, you would be faced with safely disposing of a highly contaminated enrichment culture and a contaminated test kit. Not something I would care to do in a home environment (and I'm a trained microbiologist).

    Nice thought, though.


  6. Doh! Thanks Phyllis.

  7. Dear Phyllis,
    I believe you are misdirecting your time and efforts in terms of importance. Only 1 out of 37 cases of foodborne disease can be traced back to the source according to CDC. Traceback is much more likely to be succesful if the person being sick consumes a rare commodity, such as raw milk. I believe you need to concentrate your efforts on protecting 95% of the population that are continuously exposed foodborne and environmental hazards, and not those that are taking an educated risk, because they believe the product is beneficial for them. I see that you are sitting with a dog near to your face. I believe you are taking an educated decision that your immune system can handle potential pathogens from your dog and you appreciate what the dog brings to your life. People drinking raw milk produts have likewise made a decision. It is a small minority group, and they are considering that the benefits the raw milk brings to their lives outweighs potential risks. Please stop the witch hunt, and go use your microbiological skills to protect the masses.
    Kind regards,

  8. @Cat Berge.-In the nearly 3 years that I have been writing my eFoodAlert blog, I have posted 1,967 articles. With the exception of recall and outbreak notices, perhaps 20 of them have been about raw milk. I hardly think that a 1% posting rate qualifies as a witch hunt, especially as some of those articles have been proposals for how deal safely with the raw milk issue. (See my article "Ron Paul is Right", for example).

    BTW, when in France, I eat raw milk cheese.


  9. Dear Phyllis,
    Thank you for that clarifying statement.
    The way your blog was written with every other paragraph in bold 'But Mark MacAfee is an honorable man.... ' was certainly not objective statements but highly subjective. There are certainly hazards with all foods, and all producers fight and promote for their food production. Kind regards,

  10. "Interviews with the children's families have confirmed that all four youngsters consumed Organic Pastures' milk products in recent weeks. However, none of the company's milk items has turned up positive for the bacteria" (quote from the SignOnSan Diego article). The tone of this blog inspired me to look further into this and am glad I did.

  11. @Anonymous. That is correct. But none of the milk that was implicated by epidemiological evidence was available for testing. The negative test results were from production dates that were different from the milk that was implicated by the outbreak investigation.


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