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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Should Estrella Family Creamery be treated differently than Sangar when it comes to Listeria?

Screen shot 2010-10-26 at 10.41.25 AM.pngYesterday I hammered away on what seems to me to be Estrella Family Creamery’s inconsistent position between fetal death by abortion and the possibility of fetal death by Listeria. Some of the commentators see that as being unfair given that there are no reported fetal or other deaths linked to Estrella cheeses. True enough, but remember, the incubation period for Listeria can be as long as 70 days and most fetal deaths are simply left in the unknown category.

Other commentators felt that it was simply unfair to simply go after a small family farm run by nice people. I suppose that those would have liked my post of Sangar whose plant was shuttered after being linked to several illnesses and four to five deaths.

Bottom-line, I do not think big or small producers should get a free pass. Especially in the case where there is a Warrant and a Complaint.  Below are some of the key points in the Affidavit against Estrella Family Creamery. When I get Sangar’s, I’ll post them too.



I, Lisa Elrand, hereby verify and declare under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

  1. I am a Compliance Officer with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), United States Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. I have read the foregoing verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem and know the contents thereof; the information contained in the Complaint has been furnished by official government sources; and, based on information and belief, the allegations contained in the Complaint are true.
  3. The sources of my knowledge and information and the grounds of my belief are the official files and records of the United States, as well as my investigation of this case, together with others, as a Compliance Officer with FDA.
  4. Estrella Family Creamery, LLC (“Estrella”) is a small family dairy that manufactures and sells specialty aged cheeses made from raw cow and goat milk.
  5. On February 1, 9, and March 1, 2010, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (“WADA”) collected finished cheese products, salt brine solution, rennet and environmental samples at Estrella.  FDA has since determined that Estrella purchases rennet, which is a component of all Estrella cheese products, from a company located in Madison, Wisconsin.  The state’s laboratory analyses of the samples collected from Estrella revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes (“L. mono”) in the finished cheese, in the salt brine solution, and throughout the production and storage areas. L. mono is an opportunistic pathogen capable of causing the illness listeriosis, which can result in death, especially in aged, infirm, very young, or immunocompromised individuals.  As a result of the WADA’s discovery of L. mono, Estrella initiated recalls of several cheese products on February 10, February 15, and March 5, 2010.
  6. 6.              On August 2, 2010, FDA initiated an inspection of Estrella and collected several environmental samples and finished cheese products.  FDA laboratory analyses of these samples revealed the presence of L. mono in the processing areas and aging rooms, particularly Cave 3.  Investigators observed finished product being cut and wrapped in the cheese room where L. mono had been detected.
  7. During this inspection, the firm disclosed that it tested its products for Listeria between March 2010 and May 2010, and that a sample collected on March 2010 tested positive for L. mono.
  8. During an August 16, 2010, visit, an FDA investigator collected a sample of “Caldwell Crik Chevrette” cheese that was made on April 27, 2010.  One of the owners of Estrella told the FDA investigator that the product was part of Estrella’s commercial inventory of product, ready to be distributed.  FDA laboratory analysis revealed that the sample tested positive for L. mono.
  9. FDA analysis using Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (“PFGE”) revealed that L. mono isolates obtained from FDA environmental samples collected on August 2-3, 2010, an FDA finished product sample collected on August 16, 2010, and finished product samples collected by the WADA in February 20 I0 were indistinguishable both by a primary and secondary enzyme.  When a PFGE pattern of an isolate is indistinguishable from the pattern of another isolate from a common source (i.e., from the facility and the products therein), it is highly likely that the two isolates are the same strain of L. mono, and that L. mono may have been transported throughout the facility and established niche areas.  The presence of a persistent strain of L. mono in the facility over time is significant in that it demonstrates that sanitation efforts were inadequate to remove this pathogenic organism.
  10. On September 1, 2010, the FDA and the WADA initiated the most recent inspection of Estrella.  During this inspection, Estrella provided laboratory reports that revealed product it sampled on May 28, June 15, June 26, June 29, July 8, and August 30, 2010, had tested positive for L. mono.  Investigators also found three paper-wrapped cheeses labeled “FDA sample, do not sell” stacked together on an aging shelf that appeared to be the three remaining cheeses from the lot that was sampled by FDA on August 16, 2010 and tested positive for L. mono.  Estrella had previously informed FDA that cheese had been destroyed.  The presence of the contaminated cheese presents an additional potential source of contamination.
  11. Also during the September 1, 2010, inspection, FDA investigators observed that employees did not take necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food contact surfaces.  Most significantly, the owner was observed tasting the cheese and placing the uneaten portion back into the cheese wheel.  Conditions similar to those observed during the previous August 2010 inspections were also observed during this inspection.
  12. On September 3, 2010, the agency requested that Estrella recall all cheese products.  The firm declined.
  13. On September 4, 2010, FDA issued an FDA News Release advising consumers that consumption of all Estrella Creamery cheeses put them at risk for L. mono related illnesses.
  14. During FDA’s inspections of Estrella, FDA investigators also observed insanitary conditions in the production areas including tape and peeling paint on cheese press handles; flying insects and spiders on the walls and ceiling of the milk room vestibule and in the cheese processing room; and uncovered whey collection tank located against the exterior wall of the processing facility; milk residue build-up on the whey discharge sink, and rough bare wood shelving covered with cheese product residue in the cheese aging areas.
  15. In short, the persistent presence of L. mono in both product and environmental samples from Estrella and the insanitary conditions repeatedly observed by FDA investigators causes all food articles held at Estrella to be adulterated.
  • Bill, Thanks for posting specific information.
    The answer is no. Regardless of size of type of ownership, family or otherwise, we are responsible for the results of the decisions we make. Based on the evidence, the Estrella’s had adequate warning and opportunity to make correction. They did not. Hence the action that happened. Sad scenario, yet still true.
    Now I would call on the the Estrella’s to use this horrible experience as an opportunity to clean up your facility, make necessary changes in facility and procedures, and get back in business. You have a wonderful product, with a customer base that will welcome you back. You simply failed in your management. Ask for help, learn what you need to know to avoid having this happen again and go forward. Do not dwell on what happened or play the “FDA is out to get me” scanario. Be thankful that no one got sick. That part is a gift. Be thankful.

  • Bill Anderson

    This is absolutely ridiculous and untrue, Bill Marler. The Estrella family is in the process of writing a detailed rebuttal of FDA’s false claims. And they should be suing you for libel, as far as I am concerned.
    It is true that there was a single batch of cheese from earlier this year which was contaminated with Listeria, and was subsequently quarantined. All the positive listeria tests came from this single batch. The Estrellas were hoping that the listeria would die off as the cheese aged, but it did not unfortunately. They have not sold any of the contaminated batch, and they did not intend to unless it was proven safe.
    Further, of over 180 environmental samples taken by FDA, only 3 came up positive for Listeria. This is hardly cause to shut them down and put them out of business.
    As for some of the other points, they are absolutely absurd and ridiculous. Point #11, for example, talks about grading cheese. FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THIS IS THE WAY THAT PROFESSIONAL CHEESE GRADERS AND JUDGES GRADE CHEESE!!! Yes, you take a plug using a cheese iron, you remove a sample for tasting, and you put the rest of the cheese back into the wheel/block to close it up and prevent oxidation on the inside of the cheese. That is the way that cheese is judged at prestigious competitions such as the American Cheese Society and the Wisconsin Cheesemaker’s Association World Cheese Championship.
    It speaks volumes about your fascist/corporatist agenda, how you simply parrot the FDA propoganda, Bill Marler. Your “food safety” ideology is nothing more than a cover for totalitarian corporate dominance of our food system, and the destruction local food sovereignty, to enrich yourself and your corporate friends.
    Please retract this disgusting and untrue article, Bill Marler. You should be ashamed of yourself for your continued efforts to shut down small scale farmers and food processors.

  • Bill, Really? “It speaks volumes about your fascist/corporatist agenda, how you simply parrot the FDA propoganda, Bill Marler. Your “food safety” ideology is nothing more than a cover for totalitarian corporate dominance of our food system, and the destruction local food sovereignty, to enrich yourself and your corporate friends.” Give me a break.
    I posted the facts on the FDA recalls and the facts in the Affidavit that the FDA use in support of the Warrant. I also posted the Estrella’s response which they removed from their website. Once they post a rebuttal to the FDA’s facts, I’ll post that too.

  • I don’t how the FDA works but as a FSIS inspector, I do know how Listeria monocytogenes sampling works in FSIS facilities. All FSIS facilities that produce ready to eat products like lunch meat and hot dogs are required to have a Listeria monocytogenes control program in place. If it’s not a requirement in raw milk dairies under FDA jurisdiction, it should be.

    The FSIS ready to eat establishments go t hrough repeated sampling and cleaning until ALL samples come back negative. While this is going on, product is usually held until the results come back. If it’s negative, the product ships. If there’s a positive, they clean/ test again and again and again until all results are negative. The system is not perfect because recalls still happen so I’m a big fan of mandatory test and hold of all products that could carry Listeria monocytogenes or E. coli O157:H7

    The fact that there were positive samples returned at all indicates the sanitation measures taken by Estrella Creamery were ineffective. If the corrective actions had been sufficient to eliminate Listeria monocytogenes all the samples would have come back negative. Listeria doesn’t “die off” if you let cheese sit around awhile and age. It continues to grow, especially when it has a nice lovely cheese as a food source. The cheeses that were affected by the positive result SHOULD HAVE BEEN DESTROYED. NO if’s, ands, or buts.

    The US attorney doesn’t get involved unless they’ve been handed some pretty good documentation that a harmful product is being put into commerce, hence the warrant served by the US Marshals. I have a few acquaintances that are FSIS Compliance Officers and they will tell you how difficult it is to gather enough evidence to get the US Attorney to take on the case. All their ducks have to be in a pretty row with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted or the case goes out the window. FDA seems to have done what they needed to do in this situation.

    The Estrellas took a very dangerous chance with their cheeses because they thought they knew better and are extremely fortunate that no one fell ill or died. The lack of illnesses does not absolve them of the responsibilty they have to provide their customers with a safe product. When a test result comes back positive, its a warning sign that cannot be ignored. If I had been in their shoes the first time product was recalled, I would have jumped on the internet and burned up the phone lines in an attempt to find out how to get rid of Listeria so it doesn’t happen to me again.

  • Jim F

    I hope all the small producers in our state will hear what Mr. Lukens is saying (above). The things these folks provide to us are extremely important to making our state the wonderful place it is. And in return the small producers can enjoy many benefits, but safety is on their side of the equation and they have to deliver.

  • Bill Anderson

    Yes, we should all just trust what the FDA tells us, because we all know that the government never lies and never has ulterior motives.
    Oh, wait a second…
    The Estrellas have done nothing wrong, except being producers of raw milk cheese in an era when raw dairy and other traditional foods are under constant and relentless attack by commercial agri-business interests, government bureaucrats, and sterile food fanatics, seeking to deprive us of food choices and a robust locally controlled food system.
    The U.S. policy toward Listeria Monocytogenes is totally ridiculous and unrealistic. It is possible to find a few Listeria organisms in ANY food processing plant if you look hard enough and long enough. And it take a lot more than just one listeria to make you sick. I’m sure we’ve all eaten our share of listeria in our lives, when we forget to thoroughly wash our leafy greens or garden vegetables. Ever had a carrot with a little bit of dirt on it? Then you’ve probably eaten a little listeria.
    The U.S. policy toward listeria is nothing more than a way to selectively target any food processor or niche market that the FDA cronies and their friends in corporate agri-business want to put out of business. This is abundantly clear in the case of the Estrella’s, if anyone here were to listen to their side of the story.
    Shame on Bill Marler for blindly parroting FDA propaganda. Shame on him for his continued efforts to deprive us of food choices and food sovereignty. Shame on him for trying to drive another family farm out business.

  • Bill, it is hard to argue with someone with your level of paranoia and mistrust. For me it is simple – same for small or large players- they should not sell product that puts their customers at risk.

  • Bill Anderson

    HELLO? Estrella is NOT and has NOT sold any product that puts their customers at risk. That is the point I am trying to make here. That is what FDA is obscuring in all of this legal nonsense which you keep re-posting as if it is gospel truth.
    Estrella had one bad batch of cheese which they quarantined and held onto for many months. That is where all of the positive listeria tests come from.
    Enviromental listeria is virtually unavoidable. As I already said, if you look hard enough and long enough, you can find listeria in ANY food processing plant you want to.
    I am not paranoid, I am realistic. FDA is controlled by big business. Their agenda is to end all production of raw dairy products in the United States, and drive the family farmer out of business because they make no profit for agri-business.
    Aren’t you proud of yourself Bill Marler, for being a shill of FDA and corporate agri-business?

  • L.E. Peterson

    Mr. Marler: Amen, brother! I deal with this level of paranoia and mistrust from various people on a daily basis. I chose to become a meat inspector to PROTECT the public. I may not agree with some of the policies but I agree with the mission of FSIS which is “Protecting public health through food safety and defense.” I have high hopes that Dr. Hagen will make some much needed improvements. Our system is definitely broken but you and individuals like myself are trying to fix it.

    Comments like these are an insult to all the inspectors like myself out there and the processors that bust their behinds everyday PROTECTING THE PUBLIC!!! We even protect individuals that think the governnment is just out to get them and is trying to destroy raw milk. We are trying to protect your right to drink raw milk and eat unpastuerized foods which is why there are regulations governing it’s production.

    I care about the laws of this land that govern the processing and distribution of food to consumers out there. Listeria and E. coli are very dangerous organisms and the regulations and policies put in place by FDA and USDA are meant to protect ALL US citizens.

    The fact that no illnesses occurred and “only 3 of 180 samples” were positive is irrelevant. Listeria monocytogenes IS NOT HARMLESS and all raw and RTE foods should be treated like it’s there. Once it gets a foothold in a facility, it’s extremely difficult to remove due to invisible biofilms. Three positives is 3 too many when the lives of pregnant women, unborn babies, and immunocompromised people are at stake. And I’ll wager a guess that most of us have had minor Listeria/foodborne illnesses without even realizing it because we were healthy to begin with and blew it off to the “flu” or something equally benign because the illness developed weeks after exposure. Those minor illnesses can turn deadly in children, the elderly, AIDs and cancer patients. etc. It’s the food industry’s responsibility to do everything in their power to reduce the amount of pathogens found in foods. Eradicating pathogens entirely is probably a pipe dream but we can reduce them to levels that are easily controlled or destroyed during food handling and preparation.

    I”m sorry Estrella is in the trouble they’re in but they wouldn’t be there if they had just recalled the product a second time. By refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, they could have killed someone’s baby, grandparent or partner struggling with AIDS or cancer that ate the product thinking it was safe. If they think the FDA is putting them out of business, how about a lawsuit? They would be left with absolutely nothing if that occurred. Right now they have the chance to clean up their act and start over. A lawsuit would destroy their lives.

    Raw milk and other foods can be produced safely and without Listeria monocytogenes. I work in ready to eat facilities daily and the one I’m at right now hasn’t had a single listeria positive sample in years. The same goes for several plants in the circuit I work in. How do they do it?? They keep the plants spotless–even the old run down plants are able to accomplish the sanitation levels they need to protect the public. We are fortunate here as well because we have developed a good working relationship with the industry here and they cooperate to the fullest because their reputations are at stake.

    Do we have bad actors? Of course, but they are dealt with according to 9 CFR 500 which lays out the rules of practice and all plants are given due process, just like I’m sure the Estrellas were, before the US Attorneys are brought into it. Due process has to be followed because we live in the United States and it’s the law.

  • Elaine Black

    Indeed Bill, is is hard to argue with the people who are paranoid and ignore scientific fact but we continue to do so. Thank you again for posting this information. Big or small, everyone needs to be morally comforatble with the choices they make and must be held accountable. There is no conspiracy even though people continue to look for one.

  • Bill Anderson

    OK, obviously there is no point in arguing about this.
    You trust the FDA, I don’t.
    The FDA says there is no significant difference between the milk of cows treated with artificial bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and those not treated. But Monsanto’s own scientific evidence and a recent court decision in Ohio flatly contradicts this claim of the FDA’s.
    And the FDA seems to believe that the standard techniques used by experienced professional cheese judges to grade cheese are unacceptable, per #11 in their report on Estrella.
    The FDA says that sassafras root (the traditional flavor ingredient in root beer) is carcinogenic, and so today all root beers must use artificial flavors. Yet, traditional folk medicine knows well that sassafras is a good tonic for a number of ailments. It is only when the active ingredient in sassafras (safrole) is removed from its holistic context of the entire plant root, concentrated using modern industrial food & medicine processing, and consumed in large quantities that it becomes carcinogenic. Yet sassafras for human consumption, even in its natural form, is totally banned in the United States because of the FDA.
    And I must inquire — is the huge egg farm in Iowa that has sickened thousands still in business? Are they still distributing eggs?
    These are but a few examples of the obvious bias and corporate agenda that exists at FDA.
    I for one do not trust the FDA at all, and especially in cases like this where there is clear bias and intention to deceive the public to promote a political agenda.
    I await the Estrella’s rebuttal of the FDA’s misinformation and propaganda. I am sure it will put all of these claims of the food fascists here to waste.
    Bill Marler should be very, very ashamed of himself for blindly parroting FDA propaganda and misinformation like this. It is absolutely despicable.

  • We have a local raw milk dairy near us and the folks that own and operate it have NOTHING to gain by not keeping things as clean and maintained as possible. I am sure the owners of Estrella operate the same way. A comment you, Mr. Marler made “Bill, it is hard to argue with someone with your level of paranoia and mistrust. For me it is simple – same for small or large players- they should not sell product that puts their customers at risk.” SHOULD be true but in today’s business orientated Government it often is not the case. I know I am switching the subject, but meat processing is a prime example. The “government” is so in bed with big agribusiness, the MASSIVE feed lot/slaughter operations are constantly getting dinged for contaminated meat/meat products and the “system” as such, tries to go back to the farmer for compensation – rectification of the problem when in fact it is “developed” in the intensive, unsanitary (speaking in animal/livestock terms), crowded, medicated, “wrong” feed, living in/on their own manure piled in literal mountains, no fresh grass, etc.,,,, this is where some of the actual problem starts, but the REAL place the “contamination” starts in on/in the slaughter lines. Too fast of line speeds, workers who often really do not know what the proper procedure might be, management mandates from far, far above, on and on. If management was required to get on the lines for a specified amount of time each year, many of the problems would be dealt with, but management is so very far removed from that position. Also, large operations often get a “pass” from USDA. As far as I am concerned, USDA is NOT doing their job very well, in the meat slaughter/processing, milk, etc. They are going after the smaller folks, often with a vengeance, while leaving the “big guys, relatively alone. It was happening 20+ years ago when I was farming, and it is nothing but worse in today’s big business/government environment.
    Has USDA or the Washington State done anything to really/actually help these folks comply or are these agencies just out to fine what is wrong? AND do ANY of the inspectors actually have any real experience, having ever done any work in a raw milk cheese operation or anything close to such an operation or are they, as is most often the case, just “book learned” and regulation enforcers with no real knowledge of what they are regulating? NOPE. I don’t trust the USDA to be going at this “enforcement” with a truly level hand. Right off the bat, they hold ANY raw milk operation up as suspect,,,, period. And while Listeria is a POTENTIALLY terrible organism, it is ALL OVER the environment, are most all bacteria. Yes the dairy has to be careful of it and other organism, but to be 100% free and clean is, well,,,,,, bull. Any facility CAN get it and it is difficult to “clean up”, but I am positive the owners of Estrella are doing all they are able to do to get this organism under control as their business and livelihood absolutely depend on it and to think that they are doing anything but work at this is ludicrous. USDA and Depts. of AG seem to rather squash operators having problems rather than help them get the problem under control.

  • I would like to point out that whether or not the product was raw milk based or pasteurized milk based should be irrelevant when it comes to this discussion of Listeria contamination. Listeria is environmental, it had to have been carried into the processing plant. That means it is in the future and was in the past preventable, with the correct operating procedures.
    As a small scale creamery operator, we have to evaluate what we make and what the true costs of production of those products are. And then set our prices accordingly, so that we can pay for the appropriate amount of labor hours necessary to maintain proper sanitary conditions. One thing that I have noticed as the “farmers market” economy has emerged, that many consumers and farmers believe that products sold at the markets should be cheaper than comparable products sold at a comparable quality grocery store, becauase they are farmer direct. I would like to suggest that this mentality is incorrect, and the small scale farmer that believes this way, needs to reevaluate your pricing structure. The costs of distribution that the farmer would have to pay to get the same product into the store, need to go into the farmers pocket. Especially on the smaller scale operations. The consumer is paying for the priveledge of purchasing farm direct, receiving a fresher product and if the farmer is managing finances / labor hours correctly a safe product. If small scale farmers do not manage their finances correctly and don’t count all the costs of production correctly they will run themselves ragged and wonder why there never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. That’s when important details start getting left for tomorrow or missed entirely. After a period of time as production volumes grow sanitation problems grow and compound. It’s not magic folks. It’s management.

  • L.E. Peterson

    Disclaimer: My opinons are entirely my own and do not represent those of my employer. I don’t speak for the USDA, I speak for myself and my personal experiences.

    First of all, USDA, FSIS has nothing to do with raw milk inspection or raw cheeses so let’s not confuse who does what here. FDA makes us FSIS inspectors look bad and we have enough problems with that already. I have dual-jurisdiction plants under my watch and I have yet to see any FDA inspectors come into my plants. I only know of one dual-jurisdiction plant that FDA dealt with and that was only because the FSIS inspector found huge problems with USDA product that also affected FDA inspected product. The lack of FDA inspection applies to large and small facilities both.

    IMHO, I think FDA jurisdiction over any food product needs to end. They do not have the manpower or resources to do the job and muck it up everytime. FSIS has a lot of problems also but they’re finally starting to learn and we’re finally starting to require information from ground beef suppliers that we should have been gathering the whole time. I don’t think we need new regs so much as we need to beef up the ones we have and specifically address new threats that are emerging.

    As far as I know, Wright Egg Farms has not resumed production because they haven’t met FDA requirements to ship yet. Hillandale has allegedly cleaned up. Also, why hasn’t the president of Peanut Corp of America been brought up on criminal charges for knowingly shipping adulterated food?

    I don’t believe Estrella was deliberately trying to sicken customers but they do need to understand that no one gets a pass when it comes to the regulations. NO ONE. The regs are there for a reason. As Mr. Lukens points out, Listeria and other bacteria are environmental. Even though only one type of cheese was found to have Listeria in it, the other cheeses were held and processed in the environment that contained the bacteria which makes their safety questionable. I favor erring on the side of caution for my customers and would have voluntarily complied if I were in their situation even if I disagreed with their thinking. Then I would have appealed their ruling and argued my case.

    Up until recently the aging requirements to control pathogens wasn’t questioned but recent research indicates that aging 60 days may not be enough. My understanding of the research I did yesterday on the subject is that FDA is currently trying to gather baseline data to determine how much of a problem Listeria and other bacteria is in raw milk cheeses. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to shut raw milk cheese production down but it will help them to determine what regulatory changes might need to be made in the future. Right now, the imports of some raw milk cheeses has been shut down because they haven’t been aged 60 days or longer. The studies even indicate that with some organisms, the length of aging may have no effect at all on their presence. More research is needed.

    USDA does not give big plants a “pass” in the way you think we do. Unlike FDA plants, FSIS inspectors like myself are in the plant EVERY DAY and I can tell you our hands are tied by Regulatory HACCP when it comes to enforcement in a lot of cases. If I hear “Let the system work” one more time, I’ll puke.

    The bottom line–as long as the plant shows that they are making progress to fix the matter, there’s not much we can do. If they try something different everytime they pop positive on a micro test, then they’re making an effort and we can’t say or do anything. The meat big plants have the money and resources to do this where the small plants don’t. That’s why it seems like they get a pass all the time. Also, regulatory HACCP means the establishment has the responsibility to fix the problem, not the USDA. The inspectors aren’t allowed to tell them how to fix it. We can make suggestions but that’s it–they don’t have to follow them.

    Do small USDA plants get a pass because they don’t have the same resources as the big plants? No, they don’t. They still have to comply.

    Do I think that USDA needs to look at providing more guidelines for small processors to help them comply? Yes, I do. Right now, the compliance guidelines that are on the FSIS website are nearly impossible to find and are equally confusing.

    Don’t tell me that I don’t do anything to help small meat processors. You don’t do my job–I do. I spend a lot of time going through HACCP plans with establishment owners of small plants and pointing out to them where they need to make changes and improvements so they don’t run into problems during Food Safety Assessments. I make sure they’re aware of plant conditions that need taken care of and document it. The problem comes in when we have documented the daylights out of a bad plant and we have to wait 6 months for someone to come in and do an assessment to basically tell us what we already knew. The district offices can’t take action until they get the report from the EIAO. In the meantime, the plant could be shipping potentially dangerous meat to the public. This is where the bureaucracy gets out of hand. The decisions do need to be made by someone higher up but we need to cut the red tape.

    The USDA inspectors in-plant don’t have the regulatory authority to tell big plants to slow their lines down or tell them how to process carcasses to reduce contamination. USDA has no regulatory control over how ranchers and producers raise their animals. When the government tries to get involved in these matters, people start screaming that their right to do business is being interfered with and there’s too much regulatory interference. You can’t have it both ways. Either give us the regulatory authority to crack down or quit bitching. It’s that simple.

  • Curious

    Dear Fear Mongering Bill:

    What type of work do you do? I have difficulty imagining a work environment that you could fit into, given your level of distrust in others and general wackiness. You realize that the FDA is not just some nebulous entity, and that actual people work there? If I were to wager a guess, most of the employees are probably not in it for the money. Is it your position that we should not have government agencies like the FDA, USDA, and FSIS? Who would you elect to monitor corporate agricultural activities then? Or would you do away those evil entities too? I suppose we could just return to the hunter/gather era, but then again, we probably wouldn’t be blogging on computers, using software by the evil Microsoft corporation.

    I also find it interesting how you label the other Bill as a “shill for…. corporate agriculture” and for his “fascist/corporatist agenda.” Do you know how many large businesses that he has sued? If he is in bed with corporate America, it is one disfunctional relationship.

    By the way – the Rally to Restore Sanity is on October 30th in Washington D.C. You may want to consider going. Just a thought.

  • Bill Anderson

    Fear mongering?
    That is what people like Bill Marler, and his allies at FDA do. They raise all sorts of irrational fear of bacteria, germs, and traditional foods that haven’t undergone modern industrial processing techniques to render them “safe.”
    Everytime there is even suspicion of illness from raw milk, they broadcast stern warnings far and wide, telling us about how inherintly dangerous unpasteurized milk is.
    Talk about fear mongering.
    People have been drinking raw milk and making raw milk cheese for thousands of years. Pasteurization is a very modern thing, designed for milk mass-produced in industrial settings.
    If the “food safety” establishment is to be believed about all this, then one is left to wonder how humans managed to survive and flourish with our dairy livestock for thousands of years without pasteurization, HACCP plans, chlorine and chemical sanitizers, and sophisticated labratory testing.
    Here’s the fact of the matter — Listeria is EVERYWHERE. I am sure that everyone reading this has consumed trace amounts of listeria on innumerable occassions. Ever forgotten to wash your leafy greens and gotten a little “grit” in your salad? Ever eaten a carrot straight from the garden, with a little bit of dirt still on it?
    Then you’ve probably eaten listeria.
    It takes more than just a few cells of listeria to make you sick. Even for those with a comprimised immunte system (which is a deeper problem in America than we know, because of our dead industrial nutrientless food) it would take a good quantity of listeria to make you ill.
    I’m not the one fear mongering here. That is what FDA and Bill Marler are doing. I’m calling for sanity. Let farmers produce food for their local communities. Let the local community regulate and ensure the safety of the food. What is so “fear mongering” about that?

  • Bill Anderson

    You ask what kind of work I do?
    I am a licensed Wisconsin cheese maker. I currently work at the production and cleanup crew at a creamery in Ohio that bottles fluid milk. The milk we bottle is pasteurized. But personally, I drink raw milk.

  • Bill Anderson, I once belonged to an organization that promoted pretty much everything that you are saying, they’re called the Weston Price Foundation. You don’t happen to be a member of that organiztion do you? Also I’m curious, what political affiliation do you prefer? Bill Marler and I have this little debate going that you are a Tea Partier. How would you describe yourself. Thanks.

  • I’ll stay out of that debate.

  • Curious

    Well you do seem to think that Bill, the FDA, and all the corporations are out to get you… I guess you can dress up as a FDA agent for Halloween.
    You say that Listeria is “everywhere,” yet, a few posts earlier you acknowledge that only 3 out of 180 environmental samples from Estrella were positive for Listeria. If Listeria is as common as you interpret, don’t you think there would have been more positive samples?
    Perhaps you don’t understand how microbiological tests work. Those samples don’t detect just one or two cells. To produce a positive test result, there would likely have been hundreds, if not thousands of cells within a single culture. So yes, Listeria might be “everywhere,” but not in the concentrations necessary to produce a positive test result. Three positive samples out of 180 is a lot, particularly because it means the environment was conducive to bacterial growth. The other 177 samples were not necessarily free from Listeria, there just may not have been a enough colony forming units (CFUs per gram) to qualify as a positive culture.
    By the way, it takes a little as 100 cells to cause illness. Would it surprise
    you to know that 20-30% of clinical Listeria infections result in
    death? [1]
    1. Ramaswamy V, Cresence VM, Rejitha JS, Lekshmi MU, Dharsana KS, Prasad SP, Vijila HM. (02 2007). “Listeria – review of epidemiology and pathogenesis.” J Microbiol Immunol Infect. 40 (1): 4–13.

  • Mary Ann

    I feel that food safety is critical. One of the things I appreciate having in the US, is a government that has put in place inspections and guidelines that help keep our foods as safe as possible. Government has to get involved when families or companies produce a product that can kill someone. This is 2010. People who go out to farm thinking that its my land I can do what I want, forget they still have a responsibility. If that were my farm, I would thank the inspectors and cleanup the creamery and be grateful that it was caught before someone became ill or died. I would really learn from this experience.
    The obvious underlying issue is republican thinking. The government is evil until I need them to do something for me. I call it the Me, Me, and only Me attitude. The Toddlers Creed. I read the article on AOL today. I had to laugh when the owner said the same government that wants to take away our guns. Call it fearful, paranoid, lack of education about how government works. It is just ridiculous. Keep your guns if that is important to you but don’t expect to be allowed to sell products that may have a bacteria that is poisonous in it. Just clean up your act. (thanks for allowing my comment)

  • chickenman

    Food safety is food safety whether it is a large corporation or a small mom and pop farm.
    As far as Tim Lukens comments about someones response making them sound like a Tea Party member what in the heck does that have to do with food safety.
    The same FDA and USDA all of you pro-dovernment peeps are praising is the same government agencies that got us into this mess of unsafe foods.
    It wasn’t a backyard farmer who sent out shitloads of jalapenos or bad peanuts that got people sick sometime back. Oh, what about all of the tainted meats,other veggies, and eggs, that these great inspectors cheked that were shipped out and got so many people sick? That’s right, most all of these problems were discovered after the fact. People got dog sick, then someone at the different plants decided to get off their lazy government butts and startd inspecting.
    I am all for food safety but there has to be better protocols set up in the plants to get the inspections done efficiently and in a timely manner in order to stop these outbreaks before the finished products hit the market.
    All of that being said I am still hesitant to buy produce and some meats at the market.
    Even the current president got his phesants for the bigg dinner from somewhere besides the commoners market place.

  • Oat Farmer

    I have lots of questions.
    How does Estrella’s record compare to similar small cheese-makers?
    Is their operation unique in size or processing methods?
    Do other cheese-makers occasionally test positive for listeria?
    Are they able to respond and eradicate the infestation?
    Are there any documented cases of listeriosis caused by contaminated cheese?

    A sanitation lapse by a large producer is bound to have more victims than a lapse by a small producer, which suggests the large producers should be inspected more closely. But on the receiving end of a death or a miscarriage, I wouldn’t feel much better knowing that inspectors only perform the most leveraged inspections. Would it be better if an operation got a pass because their product tastes extra good? Or they were nice?

    If I thought small operations got a pass, I would avoid food from small operations.

  • Vivian

    I just want to chime in on this well-intentioned (excluding a couple of you) debate. No one has suggested yet that the real discussion here is who decides on the level of risk which the consumer takes?
    Those in favor of the insistence on pure, reliable, totally “safe” edibles seem to assume that this is a reasonable necessity of life, although that was not an expectation prior to 1900. Isn’t it possible that many people do not mind assuming a certain amount of risk? And why is it the job of the government to control this?
    What about cigarettes? We know they are not “safe”, and yet, no one has seriously proposed making it illegal to sell them. We take various risks when driving, skiing, playing football, running, bungee-jumping, having sex with many partners, having childbirth, undergoing any surgery, having abortions, etc. Yet there is a huge reluctance from most people to having any of them curtailed or regulated away by the government.
    In France and in many other parts of the world, there is not nearly the obsession with 100% safety that there is in the US, and a lot of it has to do with unrealistic expectations stemming from the easy access to insurance settlements which tempt thousands of lawsuits each year.
    My recommendation is to change the nature of the federal regulation here. Instead of simply shutting down a dairy like this, what about requiring the Estrella dairy and other supposed transgressors to simply sell warnings and/or waivers with the purchase of any cheese? Like cigarettes. That way, if people wish to accept the risk, they can, and those who do not can simply pass these products by at the marketplace. Where would be the harm in this?
    I personally have not had any of the delicious cheeses I used to be able to buy back in 1977 and 1978 when we lived in Chicago thanks to the Brie scare. Many classic French cheeses are now illegal to import. And yet, the French continue to make them and consume them. So I’m amused by the huffy attitude of those of you here who seem to expect a guarantee of food safety which is not held universally, except by certain people in the U.S. Those of you who expect the government to guarantee your health and safety from cradle to grave have done a lot to eliminate many former sources of joy, such as diving boards on swimming pools, 100% cotton sleepwear for children (thanks to the purveyors of the chemical used to make sleepwear flame-retardant), swingsets on playgrounds which actually have swings, etc.
    On the other hand, I see no serious attempt to prevent the widespread manufacture, sale, and distribution of illegal, life-destroying drugs such as meth and crack, and we routinely fail to protect Americans by keeping serious criminal offenders locked up.
    This is a big country, and a generous country. Why can’t we allow the freedom for each group of people to be accommodated, ie. those who wish to decide for themselves on the risks, and those for whom a warning is sufficient to tell them not to indulge….