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FDA Shuts Down Artisanal Cheesemakers In Washington

FDA Shuts Down Artisanal Cheesemakers In Washington

Raw milk and cheese were attacked by the government again last week, when FDA officials arrived unannounced at the most well-known artisanal creamery in Washington and posted a seizure order that named all cheeses on the property.

The award-winning raw-milk cheeses, made by the Estrella Family Creamery in Montesano, Grays Harbor County, are sold at farmers markets, high-end restaurants and retail stores in several states.

In February, an inspection by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) turned up Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria found in animal feces, in the creamery’s production areas and in its finished cheese, according to court records.

For the last thirty-eight years, and possibly further back, there have been no reports of illness caused by the consumption of raw milk that was attributed to L-mono, writes Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

The FDA moved forward with its unexpected action despite the fact that no illnesses have been linked with the cheeses, the Washington state Department of Health said.

The problems centered on a particular cave where soft cheeses are aged, according to co-owner Kelli Estrella, adding that soft cheeses are more susceptible to bacteria growth.

“We very aggressively went after the problem,” she told the Seattle Times. The company voluntarily recalled several cheeses, destroyed the cheese in that cave and temporarily shut down production while it improved the facility.

The current FDA recall involves every single type of cheese in production at Estrella, even those that never tested positive for L-mono.

According to Kennedy, this recall, and similar cases happening all over the country, is a disturbing example of what could happen if if S510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, passes into law giving FDA mandatory recall power.

“The cases show how the recall power along with the food safety plan requirement [see HARPC] in the bill would be an effective way for the agency to cripple raw dairy producers who have harmed no one with their products,” writes Kennedy. “If S510 passes, state agencies and laboratories will be getting more funding from FDA and the influence of the agency on states in pushing its anti-raw milk agenda will increase.”

Although there’s no doubt that many regulations governing the production of food in America need to be updated, it has been widely criticized for containing a number of dangerously fascist ideas, mostly targeting small, non-traditional farmers and food makers.

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87 comments

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8:08AM PDT on Apr 13, 2013

"Even with prompt treatment, some listeriosis cases result in death. This is particularly likely in older adults and in persons with other serious medical problems." ~CDC

The operation should be suspended until they receive a clean bill of health and no further bacteria are found.

The problem is that bacteria multiply and transfer to other foods, and our food system is so interrelated that one contaminated cheese could easily multiply into a much greater problem.

Pasturization is one method to help control bacteria, but not the only method.

The only problem with raw milk products is that it is more difficult to be certain that they aren't contaminated...but it's not impossible.

One reason that contamination levels in food are hard to deal with is that we're dealing with living things capable of rapidly expanding their numbers...and with any infectious agent, the larger the quantity you are exposed to, the harder it is for your immune system to fight them.

So you can actually consume some unique situational number of infectious bacteria and not become ill because your body fights it off..but exactly how much depends upon hoards of factors.

9:51PM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Give the people the freedom to choose which cheeses they want to eat! For some people, raw milk for cheese is ok. Thanks for sharing this article

5:12AM PST on Jan 19, 2011

While I am no particular fan of the FDA I am troubled by the reality that the FDA is "damned if they do and damned if they don't" and am not sure what the solution might be. On one hand the FDA is being criticized almost continually for not being vigilant enough when it comes to safeguarding the public food supply while on the other they are criticized for doing exactly that in this case. Although it seems the author is hinting that this artisanal cheesemaker is being treated somehow "differently" than would be routine no evidence for that is given and I am disturbed by the paragraph that says that there have been no reports of illness in such cheese due to this bacteria. What exactly does that mean, I would ask whether or not the bacteria is harmful to humans in cheese or is its presence simply a byproduct of the production of such cheese by such methods? It would seem not to be since the cheesemaker responded by shutting down the cave in which the bacteria was present. I do think that there should be different levels of standards that would preserve both the public health and the ability of people to choose alternative/non-agribusiness products but I don't know how that would work in terms of liability and standards. Other countries and the EU seem to have made some progress in this direction and perhaps we should study how it is being done and what the effects on public health have been.

3:57PM PST on Jan 18, 2011

We can not trust the FDA to have "our" best interests at heart, if in fact they have "heart"! We must maintain some control over the very foods that we eat and return to what should be produced on smaller, local, ORGANIC farms..... operated by families and friends and NOT large corporations that are only interested in making huge profits.

7:44AM PST on Jan 18, 2011

I agree with Tina. I actually watched a great documentary last night - "Heart and Soil" - it focuses on rich, organic farming in SW America. Stunning landscape and insightful methods discussed. The topic of pasturized cheese v cheese from raw milk, dead v living....was discussed. The scientific argument was solid; cheese made from live enzymes are without question more beneficial.

Nikolas makes a vital point. This is another move towards control and squashing the smaller, independent farmer as was done in all other aspects of farming in America.

April's warning should be heeded. Canadians faced this and were on their toes...vigilant. We need to prevent the loss of another way of life and hold onto small farming, business...

Unfortunately, I have lost faith in the FDA, which acts in its own interest that serves a larger, corporate interest. Their integrity is gone. We must continue to have the FREEDOM to maintain our small farms and industries and choices. It is very possible that the FDA trumped up these violations in an attempt to wipe them out so that eventually we will only have the huge, filthy commercial dairy farms making our products. Since they have lost their integrity and make decisions based on alternative motives, if they had a legitimate health concern...we can't take them on their word.

We must stand up for our rights before they are completely gone...

11:10PM PST on Dec 20, 2010

THANKS

3:02PM PST on Nov 10, 2010

noted

11:43AM PST on Nov 9, 2010

Wow, difficult situation. On one hand, I can see why this institution would enforce its rules. On the other, judging by the reactions of some of the people here, it is done so rather selectively.

2:50PM PST on Nov 8, 2010

Actually raw milk is better for you than pasturised and homogenised milk is. The enzimes are still alive! But then again, only infants need milk. Any way, for those who do consume dairy products, they should be allowed to eat as they choose and I don't think that governments should get so involved. Places do need to be clean, though, and those regulations shouldn't be dropped. Those that interfere with people doing honest business, however, should be done away with in my humble opinion. Then again, buying shares in the privately owned dairy farms is a really good idea. Or have community-owned dairy farms, etc.

8:45AM PST on Nov 8, 2010

They shouldn't have shut down the whole damn dairy...just the particular cave where the contaminated chesses was asging.

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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