Two lawsuits filed against raw-milk dairy Organic Pastures
The Ethicurean has learned that California's leading raw-milk dairy, Organic Pastures, has been named in two personal-injury lawsuits related to a 2006 outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7. Meanwhile, California’s Assembly Agriculture Committee is currently establishing a "blue ribbon commission" to examine whether California’s latest, more stringent coliform requirement has any basis in food-safety science.
The Marler-Clark law firm, which specializes in foodborne illness lawsuits — and whose principal, Bill Marler, blogs regularly and comments here — filed two lawsuits yesterday in Fresno County against Organic Pastures Dairy on behalf of two children sickened during a 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak. The children, ages 9 and 11, were hospitalized for over a month with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of infection from E. coli 0157:H7.
Supporting documentation for the suit includes a report from the Infectious Diseases Branch of the Division of Communicable Disease Control in California. Notable in the report is its summary statement:
Six children had E. coli O157:H7 infections and/or HUS. The five available E. coli O157:H7 isolates had identical and unique PFGE patterns supporting a common source of exposure. Five patients consumed raw dairy products from one dairy, and one patient could have consumed raw milk from the same dairy. The environmental investigation at the dairy identified E. coli O157:H7 from three cows but the PFGE patterns of these isolates did not match that of the children. Despite not finding the outbreak strain at this dairy, the source of infection for these children was likely raw milk products produced by the dairy [emphasis added].
E. coli 0157:H7 mutates rapidly, and a fingerprinting technique allows technicians to determine if the particular strain of E. coli came from a common source. There is room for error in this methodology, but in the California case, the specific E. coli 0157:H7 fingerprint was matched in five of the six children. In the sixth child, E. coli 0157: H7 was not found in the stool samples, but this particular child developed HUS, a complication in which E. coli 0157:H7 is the most likely culprit. The six children live in various counties throughout California, so contamination in a home kitchen or at a common birthday party can be ruled out.
In five of the six cases, parents offered to investigators that their children had consumed raw dairy products from Organic Pastures. In the sixth case, the parents denied that the child had recently consumed raw milk, but the report suggests that the family does consume Organic Pastures products. The fingerprint in this child matched the other four cases in which the bacteria was isolated.
As part of a large investigation back in the fall of 2006, California’s state veterinarian tested the stools of the entire herd at Organic Pastures. In a first round of testing, they grouped cows and heifers into groups of three, mixed their stool samples, and tested them for the virulent strain of E. coli 0157:H7. Five composite samples tested positive. Researchers then tested the 15 cows in those five clusters individually and isolated the bacteria in three of them. The report states that the positive animals were “cows” and not “heifers” or “dry cows,” distinctions made elsewhere in the report. We have not been able to confirm if the three cows were milking at the time. The strains isolated in the three cows were not the same as those in the affected children.
The Ethicurean will be following these raw-milk developments closely.
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