Raw milk products from Organic Pastures (Fresno County, CA) are the probable source of five California cases of E. coli O157:H7 according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. All five children became infected with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 between August and October; three of the children were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The five children live in four different California counties – Contra Costa, Kings, Sacramento and San Diego. While E. coli O157:H7 has not been recovered from lab samples of the company’s raw milk, the only food exposure they have in common is raw milk from the Organic Pastures dairy.

The California Department of Public Health has ordered a statewide recall of all raw milk products from Organic Pastures, except for cheese that has been aged a minimum of 60 days – the aging process is supposed to allow time for pathogens to die. In addition, Organic Pastures has been placed under a quarantine order; until further notice, the company may not produce raw milk products – including raw butter, raw cream, raw colostrum and Qephor – for the retail market.

This is the second time that raw milk products from Organic Pastures have been implicated in an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. In 2006, six children became infected with the pathogen after consuming raw milk or raw colostrum produced by Organic Pastures. On that occasion, too, the pathogen was not recovered from milk samples; however, the epidemiological evidence linking the illness to raw milk and colostrum from the dairy was strong.

State food safety experts are carrying out a complete inspection of the Organic Pastures operations. The present quarantine will not be lifted until the facility has been found to meet all sanitation requirements under state law and until lab tests confirm that the dairy’s raw milk products are in compliance with regulatory standards.

Individuals who have consumed raw milk products from Organic Pastures and who develop symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infections – including abdominal cramps and diarrhea which is often bloody – should seek immediate medical attention. Young children and the elderly who become infected with this pathogen are at risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening complication that is associated with this pathogen.