December 2007

Winston Churchill once said, “There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.” Perhaps he was right, but at the turn of the 20th century, the process of pasteurizing milk was still in its infancy, and the safety of milk was a preeminent public health challenge. As people in the United States moved from the countryside into cities, their milk supply became increasingly unhealthy. Milk from cows in the country was transported further and stored at higher temperatures than in the past. Milk produced closer to cities came from cows kept under crowded and unsanitary conditions, and as a result, many city residents, especially children, were increasingly getting sick and dying after consuming contaminated milk. (1)


John Lauritsen of WCCO TV reported:

E. coli Victim Awake After 9 Weeks In Coma

Stephanie Smith’s family is calling her recovery a miracle. The 20-year-old Cold Spring woman recently regained consciousness after spending more than nine weeks in a drug-induced coma. Stephanie Smith contracted the E. Coli bacteria after eating Sam’s Club hamburger in September. She has been at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester ever since.

According to press reports this morning, the pasteurization process at Whittier Farms, the central Massachusetts dairy connected to a deadly outbreak of a bacterial illness, appears to be working properly. Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state director of communicable disease control, said that could mean the listeria bacteria that sickened four people, killing 2 adults and an unborn child in Massachusetts, entered Whittier Farms’ milk supply after it was pasteurized. DeMaria said the Massachusetts outbreak is believed to be just the third ever in pasteurized milk in the United States.

Three seemed low to me, so I spent a few hours today surfing the web looking for other outbreaks of bacterial or viral illnesses that have been tied to pasteurized milk or milk products. What I was able to find from other sources and a CDC chart summarizing Pasteurized Milk Outbreaks by State and pathogen – 1966 – 2000. I did not find any other outbreaks tied to pasteurized milk or milk products (although lots from unpasteurized).  So, if anyone has some, I will add them to the chart.

What is evident from the below chart (and reading the literature on each outbreak) is that in each instance the cause of the outbreak was either inadequate pasteurization, post-pasteurization contamination or unknown. So, I suppose in some ways these are all really unpasteurized milk outbreaks?

Date –  Location   –   Species   –   Cases

1966 – Florida – Shigella flexneri – 97

1975 – Louisiana – Salmonella Newport – 49

1976 – New York – Y. enterocolitica – 38

1978 – Arizona – S. Typhimurium – 23

1979 – UK – Campylobacter jejuni – 3,500

1982 – Tenn., Ark., Miss. – Y. enterocolitica – 172

1983 – Massachusetts – Listeria monocytogenes – 49

1984 – Kentucky – S. Typhimurium – 16

1985 – Illinois – S. Typhimurium – >150,000

1986 – Vermont – Campylobacter jejuni – 35

1992 – UK – Campylobacter jejuni – 23

1992 – UK – Campylobacter sp. – 110

1994 – Illinois – L. monocytogenes – 45

1995 – UK – Campylobacter sp. – 12

1995 – Vermont, New Hampshire – Y. enterocolitica – 10

1999 – UK – E. coli O157:H7 – 114

2000 – Pennsylvania, New Jersey – S. Typhimurium – 93

2004 – Denmark – E. coli O157:H7 – 25

2005 – Colorado – Campylobacter jejuni – 40

2006 – California – Campylobacter jejuni – 1,644

Foodsnark sent me this interestingly, disturbing find:

Fatal Bacteria May Have Survived Pasteurization
from the Los Angeles Times from 1985:

The bacteria found in Mexican-style cheese and linked to 31 deaths in Southern California possess an unusual ability to live as parasites inside the white blood cells of animals and humans where they may be protected from the heat of the pasteurization process, scientists at the federal Centers for Disease Control believe.

Mycobacterium avium Subspecies paratuberculosis has been shown to survive in retail milk that had been pasteurized in the United Kingdom and the United States and shows that humans are being exposed to this chronic enteric pathogen by this route. There appears, however, to be insufficient scientific evidence to prove a link between Johne’s disease (or MAP) in animals and Crohn’s disease in humans.

Any more articles on bacteria and viruses surviving pasteurization?

I love a lawsuit……  The AP reported yesterday, “Dairies sue to stop enforcement of raw milk standard."  This one will be fun to watch.  The raw milk folks (who sell their product for $10.00 per gallon – pasteurized milk sells for about $4.00) better watch what they are stepping into.  You really have to wonder if charging $6.00 more a gallon has anything to with the lawsuit?  Or, is it really true that these multi-million dollar companies really care about raw milk for some other reason?  See YouTube interview of Organic Pastures owner.

For those of us that believe in the civil justice system, I expect "Raw Milk on Trial" to uncover the truth.  As the AP reported:

Claravale Farm, of Paicines, and Organic Pastures of Fresno that produce unpasteurized milk are suing to stop the state from enforcing strict new standards. The dairies hope to stop a law that would require raw milk to meet the same bacterial standards as pasteurized milk starting January 1. They say it’s not technically possible to meet those standards and keep milk raw. Agriculture department officials haven’t seen the suit. But they say raw milk producers in other states with similar standards have been able to comply.

We are also investigating a Fall 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has implicated one of the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit, Organic Pastures.  

Many of these families whose kids were sickened in these outbreaks thought they were doing something healthful (one of the children unknowingly drank raw milk at a friend’s house), but the products (colostrum or raw milk) were reported  to contain a fecal pathogen (E. coli O157:H7) that nearly took the kids’ lives.

I actually spoke on the topic of “Issues Regarding Raw Milk Sales and Consumption” at the IAFP conference in 2006, and recently one of my law partners wrote “A Legal History of Raw Milk in the United States” published in The Journal of Environmental Health.  One thing milk producers (raw or pasteurized) need to remember, what they produce is a product, and if that product contains a deadly pathogen and it sickens or kills someone, you have no defenses and you will get sued.

Cheryl Clark of the San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed the owner of Organic Pastures, the largest supplier of organic raw milk in California, with $6 million in annual sales, for her story E. coli suspected from Fresno dairy” on September 23, 2006:

Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures, insisted during a phone interview yesterday that he does not believe his dairy farm produced contaminated products. “They don’t know what it is,” he said, referring to the state officials. He added that he was told some of the children also ate poorly cooked hamburger or spinach and could have ingested the bacteria that way. “The state has told us this is a precautionary recall,” McAfee said. “They have to shoot first and ask questions later, and you can’t blame the guys. And although we test our milk like nobody tests it for every pathogen, (the raw milk products industry has) a long history of people becoming sick.”

 Organic Pastures was glowingly profiled in 2003 in

The milk is a perfect metaphor: by keeping it raw, Mark encourages the beneficial bacteria that keep pathogens in check. Each batch of milk is tested for bad guys like salmonella and E. coli, and not once have they been found. He has even had researchers introduce such bacteria to test samples, and the pathogens have been unable to reproduce. In conventional milk they would be the dominant organisms and proliferate, but in the varied ecosystem within Mark’s milk, the competition stifles them.

I guess the metaphor is not always apt.  As part of our research into the sale and consumption of raw milk, I hope to do several posts in the next few months – stay tuned.  The folks at Barfblog have already done quite a bit of research already.  Originally, the last photo was of a nice picture of Organic Pastures milk.  However, the photo caught the ire of my friends at  I did find another photo.

$10,000 reward still offered for information leading to the arrest of the persons who stole the meat-filled trailer. 

Quote of the day:

"The bottom line is, it’s never safe to buy meat on the street."

Susan Tallant and the Fort Worth Star-Ledger is on the trail of the E. coli-tainted trailer stolen from American Fresh Foods parking lot a few days ago.  According to the report, “the meat was in a trailer, not hitched to a tractor, on the parking lot of American Fresh Foods, 1301 Northpark Drive, just northeast of downtown off Samuels Avenue…. The thief or thieves must have brought a tractor to haul off the trailer, officials said.”

The meat-filled refrigerated trailer is a white 2000 Great Dane, Maine license plate number 1925071, trailer number Q061232.  The company’s logo and "XTRA LEASE" are on the side of the trailer.

If you have any information on the location of the trailer or the meat, please call the Fort Worth Police Department Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-817-469-8477 or the American Fresh Foods consumer hotline at 1-800-724-1136.  Also, if you have any information that leads to the arrest of these “hamburglers,” please call me on my Bat Phone – 1-206-794-5043.

I am sure that American Fresh Foods in Fort Worth, Texas was thinking about doing this, but I thought I would make the offer.  If American Fresh Foods wants to double the reward, that would be great.

As you recall, last night American Fresh Foods and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert for approximately 14,800 pounds of ground beef products (that is 59,200 quarter pounders) that might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  The public health alert was initiated after a trailer (like the one in this picture) containing the products was reported stolen by the company.  According to American Fresh Foods’ officials, the stolen meat had been placed in a refrigerated truck and held on the plant’s property.  The product, a portion of which had been segregated as possibly affected with E. coli O157:H7, was being removed from "fresh commercial sale."  Frankly, why the contaminated hamburger was not destroyed is an issue.  What was it being stored for?  And, how does someone steal a trailer and a truck and no one notices?  Where the hell did they take it?

Regardless of why American Fresh Foods was storing E. coli-tainted meat in a trailer, the product needs to be returned, so it is not consumed.  Remember, E. coli O157:H7 is an adulterant in hamburger.  10 to 50 bacteria will kill a child – 250,000 bacteria will fit on the head of a pin.  You cannot see it, taste it or smell it.  Since the FSIS reported this last night, 24 hours have passed.  At the speed limit, the truck could have traveled 1,300 miles.  That is 700 miles less than showing up in the parking lot of my law office here in Seattle.  If you have the truck, or know someone who does, and it leads to his or her arrest, please call 911 and then me at 1-206-794-5043.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert for approximately 14,800 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, that were produced by Texas American Food Service Corporation, a Fort Worth, Texas, establishment doing business as American Fresh Foods. This public health alert was initiated after a trailer containing the products was reported stolen by the company.  The consumer products subject to this public health alert include:

  • 2-pound approximate weight packages of "73/27 GROUND BEEF" bearing a sell-by date of "12.30.07"
  • 2-pound approximate weight packages of "80/20 GROUND BEEF CHUCK" bearing a sell-by date of "12.31.07"
  • 1-pound approximate weight packages of "85/15 GROUND BEEF ROUND" bearing a sell-by date of "12.31.07"
  • 1-pound approximate weight packages of "90/10 GROUND BEEF SIRLOIN" bearing a sell-by date of "12.31.07"
  • 1-pound approximate weight packages of "96/04 EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF, 4% FAT" bearing a sell-by date of "12.31.07"

Each package label bears the establishment number "EST. 13116" inside the USDA mark of inspection and the company name "American Fresh Foods, Ft. Worth, TX 76102" below the nutrition information. Each package has a net weight of approximately 1 to 2 pounds.  Bulk product also subject to this health alert include:

* 40-pound "net wt." box of "73/27 100% GROUND BEEF; REWORK MAP"
* 260-pound "net wt." combo bin of " CHUCK 100% GROUND BEEF; REWORK MAP"
* 370-pound "net wt." combo bin of "SIRLOIN 100% GROUND BEEF; REWORK"

Each bulk product label bears the establishment number "EST. 13116" inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as a date of "12-19-07" with the production information filled in by hand.

WAIT – how did anyone know that the meat that was stolen was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

UPDATE – Well, I did not have to wait long for an answer.  According to a press release from the company this morning:

FORT WORTH, Texas, Dec. 28 /PRNewswire/ — American Fresh Foods in Ft. Worth, Texas, is urging Texas consumers not to purchase its ground beef under questionable circumstances. This precaution comes after the company reported, early the morning of December 27, the theft of one of its refrigerated trucks containing 14,800 pounds of ground beef products. According to American Fresh Foods’ officials, the stolen meat had been placed in a refrigerated truck and held on the plant’s property. The product, a portion of which had been segregated as possibly affected with E. coli O157:H7, was being removed from fresh commercial sale.

I guess I could have called or emailed FSIS’s Karen?

I’m Karen, the FSIS Virtual Representative. I am an automated response system, available 24/7.  I can answer questions from the public about the prevention of foodborne illness, as well as the safe handling, preparation, and storage of meat, poultry, and egg products, from an extensive database of food safety information.