The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a letter on January 17, 2012 to Mark McAfee, CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy in Fresno, California, explaining the link between his company’s raw milk products and a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 infections in California children. The letter further detailed problems found at the facility, including the isolation of a matching strain of E. coli to the ill children.
The letter provides the results of an environmental investigation conducted on November 15 and 16, 2011. CDPH explains that:
This 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 PFGE pattern. Illness dates for these cases extends from August 25 through October 25, 2011….
The sickened children ranged in age from one to five years. Three of the children developed the potentially fatal complication of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
CDPH further explained that:
Epidemiological information indicated that the only common exposure all five had prior to illness onset was consumption of OPDC (Organid Pastures) raw milk…indicating a strong epidemiologic link between the raw milk exposure and illness.
The Food and Drug Branch, FDB, collected samples during the inspection of manure, colostrum, water, soil, and surfaces at the plant. 10 of those samples were positive for E. coli O157:H7. Two of the isolates matched the outbreak strain isolated from the five children. CDPH wrote that “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.”
In another disturbing revelation, CDPH reported that samples of colostrum from the facility revealed shiga-toxin producing pathogens. The isolate of the shiga-toxin was so rare that California was unable to serotype at their laboratory, and has sent it to the CDC.
There were problems beyond the samples. The FDB inspection revealed deficiencies in the milk bottling room, milk storage rooms, bottle labeler room, kefir room, as well as milk storage silos. Some examples of deficiencies cited by FDB included:
Failure to maintain equipment in good repair and in sanitary conditions;
Failure to product products from potential contamination;
Failure to effectively exclude pests from the facility;
Failure to maintain milk storage areas in good repair and sanitary condition.
The letter concluded by informing Organic Pastures that it must “provide adequate documentation that the deficiencies noted in the inspection have been mitigated and systemic procedures have been implemented to prevent their reoccurrence.”