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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Why would you buy Raw Milk from Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures?

Mark-McAfee.jpgThat is the question I am asking myself after reading the letter Mark McAfee, CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy LLC received from the California Department of Public Health, Food and Drug Branch (FOB) after the dairy was linked to five E. coli O157:H7 illness (three resulting in hemolytic uremic syndrome – HUS) and after the FOB conducted an environmental investigation at dairy (Download Full Letter).

The Outbreak:  The investigation was initiated because of a cluster of illnesses in five children from four counties throughout California infected with E. coli O157:H7 having an identical, uncommon pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern.  Epidemiological information indicated that the only common exposure all five had prior to illness onset was consumption of OPDC raw milk.

The Environmental Sampling:  During the investigation at OPDC, FOB collected a significant number of samples that included; manure, colostrum, water, soil, and environmental swabs of food and nonfood contact surfaces. Ten of the samples collected from the calf area were positive for E. coli O157:H7 (1 swab, 3 soil, 1 water, and 5 fecal), of which two of the isolates (1 fecal and 1 water) had a PFGE pattern indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. FOB believes that the E. coli O157:H7 contamination found in the calving area originated from maternal cows and subsequently passed to calves, either directly through feeding, indirectly through fecal-oral transmission, or by translocation through movement of personnel and equipment used on the farm. While one or several of these transmission pathways might have contributed to the contamination in the calving area, the fact that E. coli O157:H7 identical to the outbreak strain was recovered from OPDC environment supports the probability that the OPDC raw milk that the case patients consumed was similarly contaminated leading to their illnesses.

Additionally, FDB analyzed samples of packaged Colostrum collected from your facility and isolated shiga-toxin producing pathogens. The pathogen is very rare and we were unable to serotype it at our laboratory. The isolate has been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further evaluation. The presence of any pathogen in Colostrum constitutes the product being adulterated as defined by California Health and Safety Code section 110545 and 110560. 

Environmental Observations:  In addition to obtaining samples, FDB conducted an inspection of OPDC production areas. During the inspection, sanitary deficiencies were noted in the Milk Bottling Room, Milk Storage Rooms, Labeling Room, “Kefir” Room and common areas. The following deficiencies were identified:

Milk Bottling Room:

1.  The firm failed to maintain equipment in good repair and in sanitary conditions so as to protect products from potential contamination. The following conditions were observed:

a. Paint was observed chipping off of the bottle feeders on the bottle filling machine.

b. Small hardware on the capper machine (spring and nuts) was rusted and pieces of rust were observed to be falling off. The hardware was located directly above the bottle conveyor.

c. Pieces of aluminum were falling off of the cap dispenser line. The cap dispenser was located directly above the bottle conveyor.

2. The firm failed to maintain facility in good repair so as to protect products from potential contamination. The following conditions were observed:

a. A small window on the south wall of the bottling room (located near the bottle feeder) was sealed using uneven layers of a sealer foam. Foam layers were not easily cleanable.  Mold/mildew was observed growing on the foam.

Milk Storage Rooms:

1. The firm failed to effectively exclude pests so as to protect products from potential contamination. The following condition was observed:

a. Rodent droppings were observed on the floors of Milk Storage Room 2 (South trailer).

2. The firm failed to maintain milk storage areas in good repair and in sanitary conditions so as to protect products from potential contamination. The following conditions were observed:

a. Storage room floors were observed in a state of disrepair. Uneven floors surfaces were observed in Milk Storage Room 2.

b. Milk Storage Room 1 (north trailer) was not maintained in a clean and sanitary condition. Spilled milk on the floors of room 1 had not been cleaned up.

3. The firm failed to store product handling containers in a manner that would protect them from potential contamination. The following condition was observed:

a. White plastic buckets used to handle/store colostrum were being stored inverted on a piece of cardboard lying directly on the floor.

Bottle Labeler Room:

1. The firm failed to protect empty milk containers from potential glass contamination.  The following condition was observed:

a. The lighting fixtures located directly above the labeling machine lacked shatter proof covers.

Kefir Room:

1.  The firm failed to maintain facilities in good repair and in sanitary conditions so as to protect products from potential contamination. The following conditions were observed:

a. Paint was chipping off of the walls and ceilings of the Kefir Processing Room.

b. Parts of the ceilings were observed in a state of disrepair and were not clean.

c. An accumulation of mold/mildew was observed on the ceilings of the Kefir room.

2. The firm failed to protect products from potential glass contamination. The following condition was observed:

a. The lighting fixtures located on the south side of the “Kefir” Room lacked shatter proof covers.

Common Areas including Milk Storage Silos:

1.  The firm failed to protect products (Colostrum) from potential contamination in that the following condition was observed:

a. Black bins that were used to transport Colostrum containers were not maintained in a clean and sanitary condition. Used, soiled cloth towels along with an accumulation of dirty liquid was observed in the bottom of the bins.

2. The firm failed to maintain grounds in sanitary conditions and in good repair so as protect products from potential contamination. The following conditions were observed:

a. Milk from the bottling and storage trailers was observed dripping and accumulating on the concrete pad below the trailers.

b. Main drain on the southwest corner of the facility was uncovered with an accumulation of standing sewage water. A large number of flies were observed flying over and around the uncovered drain.

Organic Pastures Dairy Company has been the subject of other recalls and outbreaks. Most notably, the dairy was quarantined in 2006 after six children became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections from consumer raw dairy products according to the CDC report from 2006In 2007, 50 strains of Campylobacter jejuni plus Campylobacter coli, Campylobacter fetus, Campylobacter hyointetinalis, and Campylobacter lari cultured from OPDC dairy cow feces.  Also in 2007, Listeria monocytogenes was cultured from Organic Pastures Grade A raw cream.  In 2008, Campylobacter was cultured from Organic Pastures Grade A raw cream.

So, why would you buy Raw Milk from Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures?

  • Paul F Schwarz

    How does this guy stay out of jail?

  • If memory serves, you posted a picture here on your blog of rodent droppings taken by the OPDC county inspector in 2006 – 07 that was part of the coliform lawsuit. I expect Kerman is a bit lean in cleaning supplies.

  • Barbara

    Shameful. This is the kind of thing that gives “organic” a bad name yet is not representative of the majority of organic operations.

  • Laura

    In answer to your question I have another: Why would anyone buy raw milk from somebody else?
    Personally, I would LOVE to try it for the health benefits…I really do believe that raw dairy is a more nutritious product. My barrier is the risk associated with Raw Dairy. Milk is a perfect growth medium for some nasty little critters and I do not TRUST anyone without a micro certification and approved aseptic handling techniques to do a good enough job in harvesting/bottling raw milk in a manner to keep me from getting ill.
    Cows poop on themselves and it gets on their udders. Fact of life. Throw in some unsanitary facilities and ding-ding-ding…we have a winner! I do believe that raw dairy can be harvested in a manner to present itself as a very low risk commodity…but I do not trust that to be an industry standard.
    The ONLY way I would try raw milk is if I had my own cow that I took care of myself and if I collected/handled/packaged the milk products myself.

  • There is never anything actually wrong with the dairy in question or it’s milk. Yes, rats are important, as is the discussion about how calf bacteria got “beamed” all over CA.

    The real issue here is that the dairyman must always blame the victim.The mom made kefir this time, and last time the mom made her son a spinach salad.

  • The USDA allows raw beef with the same pathogenic bacteria to be sold. What is the difference??
    Joseph Butterweck, DVM, MD

  • Well, actually USDA/FSIS does not. E. coli O157:H7 has been considered an adulterant in ground beef since 1994. It can not be sold. USDA/FSIS has expanded the products considered adulterated to include needle tenderized meat and meat trim.

  • J Butterweck, DVM, MD

    Food safety is science and medicine? If so one must present all the information. NEJM has a pier review process. CDC follows that. Do we do that?