FRESNO, Calif. — A California dairy that had its raw milk products recalled and quarantined after E. coli sent three children to hospitals said Wednesday that tests show its milk is pathogen-free and the quarantine should be lifted.
Organic Pastures Dairy Co. owner Mark McAfee said he intends to appeal the order by State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Whiteford calling for the company to pull its raw milk, butter, cream, colostrum and "Qephor" from store shelves.
A hearing on the matter was set later Wednesday.
The company sells 2,400 gallons of raw milk a day in California. It does not ship any milk products to other states.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture announced the recall and quarantine on Tuesday. It said laboratory samples of Organic Pastures raw milk had not detected the strain of E. coli that sickened the children. Samples of the milk actually consumed by the children also didn't reveal E.coli.
However, interviews with the families of five children infected with the strain between August and October indicated the only common food exposure was to Organic Pastures raw milk, state officials said.
The sickened children are residents of Contra Costa, Kings, Sacramento and San Diego counties.
Three of the children were hospitalized with a condition that may lead to kidney failure. State officials did not indicate whether any of them remained hospitalized and did not release their current condition. No deaths have been associated with the recall.
Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk across state lines but does allow states to regulate its sale within their borders. California permits the retail sale of unpasteurized milk from only two licensed facilities.
Raw milk is not pasteurized, a process that involves heating milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.
Organic Pastures is currently undergoing a complete inspection and must be found to meet all state sanitation requirements before the quarantine can be lifted, said California Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman Steve Lyle.
The agency tests the company's products on a monthly basis, Lyle said.
In addition, McAfee said his company tests the products several times a week through an independent lab. All of the samples associated with the investigation thus far have been negative for E.coli, Lyle and McAfee said.
The company is cooperating with the investigation, McAfee said. But the quarantine should be lifted, he said, because it's too early in the investigation to know the cause of the problem.
"This happened two to three months ago and all of our milk, including the milk these kids actually drank, is testing fine," he said.
It's the second time the Fresno County dairy has been the subject of a recall.
In 2006, Organic Pastures was ordered to stop selling unpasteurized milk products after four children were sickened with E.coli and three were hospitalized. Officials did not find any pathogens at the dairy and the company was allowed to sell the milk again.