California raw milk: Headed for a HACCP?

California legislators, food safety experts, and raw milk advocates met this evening in Sacramento to discuss improving raw milk safety. Legislators passed new language in October that required producers to meet much stricter bacteria standards — legislation strongly opposed by the raw-milk community, who argue that the new bacteria standard of 10 coliform per milliliter is arbitrary and does not protect consumers. (It does not distinguish between "good" and "bad" bacteria.)

“Just require 100 at the bulk tank!” exclaimed raw-milk enthusiast Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, referring to how the California Department of Food and Agriculture has been unclear on which stage the milk is to be tested.

“We’re not going there!” responded Dean Florez, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Food-borne Illness.

“Go back to the way it was!” offered Aajonus Vonderplanitz, a longtime dairy advocate in California who has fought previously to keep raw-milk sales to humans legal.

“We’re not going back to the way it was,” said Florez. “We’re going to implement a stronger standard.”

This evening, the Senate Select Committee showed strong support for a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points Plan (HACCP) in the raw dairy industry. HACCP plans focus on the process of milk production to ensure safe food production at critical points along the line rather than on a single bacteria test.

Coliform testing may be part of monitoring the plan. Ensuring clean teats, for instance, would be an important part of a HACCP plan; coliform testing could be used as a monitoring device to ensure employees are actually cleaning teats.

In the hearing, raw-milk advocate and medical doctor Ted Beals voiced strong support for raw-dairy HACCP plans, stressing the need for a unique such approach for raw milk that would incorporate outcomes important to the raw milk community. “Monitor for beneficial bacteria to make sure you’re not destroying them,” he suggested, to applause from the audience.

Florez agreed with the need for custom raw-dairy HACCP plans as well. Organic Pastures Dairy owner Mark McAfee, meanwhile, showed support for “a basic HACCP plan” that might include state testing for bacteria counts but otherwise sounded a whole lot like business as usual. Florez is set on a new standard in food safety. The senator asked regulators and raw-milk scientists to join together in developing new legislation to supersede AB1735 based on raw-dairy HACCP Plans.

Related:

Reporter David Gumpert has background on Florez's attempts to get the CDFA to show up for the hearings, and much more, on his blog the Complete Patient.

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