Raw (milk) is risky: Scotch and a smoke for your 5-year-old?

In April 1986, three classes of kindergarten and pre-K schoolchildren visited a dairy farm near Sarnia, Ontario (that’s in Canada, although it feels like grungy U.S.).

colbert-raw_-milk_1As recounted by David Waltner-Toews in his 1992 book, Food, Sex and Salmonella, “It was a typical Ontario farm, with 67 cows and calves, some chickens, some pigs, all well-cared for an clean, and seemed the perfect place to take a class of preschoolers. In April of 1986, 62 pre-school children and 12 supervising adults visited this farm. They played in the barn, petted the calves, pulled at the cows’ teats, and gathered a few eggs. For a break, they drank milk (right from the farmer’s tank!) and ate egg cookies (sliced hard-boiled eggs cleverly renamed to induce children to eat them). A good time was had by all.

“Within the next two weeks, 42 children and four adults came down with abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Three of the children ended up in the hospital with hemolytic uremic syndrome. One of the children fell into a coma. All eventually recovered. The bacterium blamed for these misfortunes called verotoxin-producing E. coli, or VTEC.

“Public health investigators looked everywhere on the farm. Although they found only two calves carrying the organism, they decided that exposure to the unpasteurized milk was the most plausible explanation for what they saw. And yet the farm family, which drank that milk every day, was apparently healthy and not shedding VTEC.”

The public health version states that “after extensive sampling at the farm the only samples that were positive for E. coil O157:H7 were stool samples taken from two calves at the dairy farm. Agriculture Canada veterinarians collected the animal stool samples and also checked the herd for Brucellosis.

“To control the spread of the E. coil the three classes were closed at the school for about three, weeks. All the affected children and their families were restricted in their contact with the community until the affected family member(s) has three successive negative stool samples. These restrictions imposed by the Lambton Health Unit quickly controlled the spread of the E. coll. Thus by mid-June all families were negative for E, coli and by mid-July the three children with HUS had returned home from the hospital.”

This outbreak was noteworthy in that dairy farms in Ontario stopped serving raw milk to visiting school children.

As one of my many dairy farmer friends have told me, when the schools visit, we go to town and buy some (pasteurized) milk.

Thirty years later and the same nonsense is still being debated, in Tasmania (that’s in Australia).

Rhiana Whitson of ABC News reported earlier this month a Tasmanian farmer who demonstrates milking cows to children, giving them a “squirt” from the udder, has fallen foul of health authorities who have warned he is at risk of losing his business if he does not stop.

huon-valley-caravan-park-aRowen Carter (left, exactly as shown) runs the Huon Valley Caravan Park, south of Hobart, which he said is “more than just a caravan park, we are a self-sufficient working farm that wants to teach people where real food comes from.”

Maybe Rowen should teach microbiology and Louis Pasteur.

Carter offers paying guests homemade Persian fetta made with raw milk, as well as a taste of raw cow’s milk straight from the udder’s teat.

“I squirt it in their mouth and then afterwards I appear with some plastic cups and show them the more couth way of tasting the fresh milk … everybody is amazed at how sweet and how nice it is,” Mr Carter said.

But his attempt to provide guests with an “old-fashioned farm experience” has landed him in trouble with the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority (TDIA).

Mr Carter denied selling raw milk and insisted his guests freely choose to sample it.

“It’s been taken away from us, the right to choose,” he said.

“I think people should be allowed to taste it … they don’t have to taste it, it’s their choice and it’s their choice to let their children have a taste.”

The sale of unpasteurised milk products for human consumption is illegal in Australia, however the use of raw milk in various products has continued with some arguing the risks have been overstated.

smoke-pancake-austinHealth authorities and experts have warned raw milk poses a health risk, especially to children. A boy died in 2014 after drinking raw milk, marketed as bath milk, labelled as being for “cosmetic use only”.

Mr Carter said the tasting of the milk straight from the cow was a “highlight of the day” for guests.

“There is always the question ‘can we do the milk squirting again tomorrow?’

“Now we have to tell them because it is deemed we are selling the milk, squirting is now no longer.

“How can something that brings so much joy be so wrong?”

Search raw milk on barfblog.com and find out how wrong it can be.

In a facebook post, Carter wrote, “I can legally allow you to sit at my dining room table and offer you a can of coke and a cigarette but I am unable to offer you a glass of fresh (raw) milk and a scone with clotted cream according to Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority acting chairman Mark Sayer.”

Raw milk and other weird parental dietary preferences disproportionally affect the kids.

It’s always the kids.

Mr. Carter, drink all the raw milk you like, I don’t care, I provide information.

But as parents, we generally don’t have a scotch and a smoke with 5-year-olds.

And stop with the squirting references, especially around kids: it’s  just weird.

It’s still 1978 here in Australia; or 1803 in Tasmania.

Tasmanian government defends food safety standards that closed state’s only organic dairy

Elgaar Farm at Moltema in the Meander Valley stopped producing milk, cheese and yoghurt in July last year after a routine inspection by the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority (TDIA).

Elgaar Farm at MoltemaThe regulatory body identified a number of issues with the factory, which uses traditional European production methods, the farm’s owner Joe Gretschmann said.

The factory’s pasteuriser failed to meet recently upgraded industry standards, but Mr Gretschamann believed there was never a risk to public health.

He said he believed his business was the victim of a “severe bureaucratic issue”.

Several weeks ago Elgaar launched an online fundraising drive to upgrade its factory, with the aim of reopening by the end of August.

Consumers have so far donated $165,000 of the $250,000 the owners say they need by the end of this month.

The reopening would still need the approval of the TDIA.

In a statement the TDIA said it had met with representatives from Elgaar and they were aware of what they needed to do to meet standards.

“Operators that meet these requirements are then able to be licensed,” is said.

“At this stage, Elgaar or its representatives do not have a new licence application before the authority for consideration.

“If they do apply, the application will be assessed in line with the standard procedures.”

Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the regulations were necessary to protect the state’s brand.

“Food safety is critical to protecting the health of Tasmanians and maintaining confidence in our dairy products,” he said.

Tasmanian food safety scientist up for Australian of the year

Sunday is Australia Day (and Monday is a holiday).

Then it’s the most wonderful time of the year because the children go back to school the next day.

Since 1960, the Aussies have awarded Australian of the Year, although I prefer the mocumentary by comedian Chris Lilley (see below).

tom.mcmeekin.aust.yearThis year, one of food safety’s own, microbiologist Professor Thomas (Big Tom) McMeekin of the University of Tasmania (UTAS), is in the running to be named Australian of the Year for 2014.

Professor McMeekin is acknowledged as a leading food microbiologist, having established new systems of improving food safety around the world, and is recognised as a pioneer in the development of predictive microbiology. He was named Tasmanian Australian of the Year 2014 in October by Premier Lara Giddings, who described him as “the world leader in predictive modelling of microbial behaviour in foods”.

Professor McMeekin has been present at UTAS since 1974, when he arrived from Northern Ireland. He held a personal Chair of Microbiology at the university before retiring from full-time employment in 2007, but stayed on as a voluntary position holder. His services won him the UTAS Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Voluntary Position Holder in September 2013. Earlier in the year he was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours for his contributions to agricultural microbiology, research and teaching.

Tom always reminded me of my uncle Larry – gregarious and quick with a quip for Douggie whenever I saw him.

Listeria in cheese sparks Australian recall

Because of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, certain Tasmanian-produced cheeses are being recalled in several Australian states.

The Emporium Selection Pepper Cheese has been available for sale at Aldi Stores in Victoria, Queensland, NSW and the ACT.

The Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Cheese products have been available for sale at independent supermarkets in Victoria and Tasmania only.

Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Cheese – Wine Lovers 250g
Best Before 7/7/14 and 23/6/14

Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Cheese 150g – Picnic Pack
Best Before 23/6/14

Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Bush Pepper Cheese 50g –
Best Before 30/6/14

Emporium Selection Pepper Cheese 170g
Best Before 14/7/14 and 3/8/14


Good on ya, Tom; McMeekin receives Australian award for risk modeling work

Tom always reminded me of my uncle Larry – gregarious and quick with a quip for Douggie whenever I saw him.

ABC News reports that University of Tasmania Emeritus Professor Tom McMeekin has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his tom.mcmeekin.jun.13distinguished service to science particularly in the development of food safety standards and education.

Tom was the Professor of Microbiology at the School of Agricultural Science at UTAS and was instrumental in the establishment in the Australian Food Safety Centre of Excellence.

The work he and a group of four other scientists did established new systems of predicting food safety around the world.

“We can do safety and we can do shelf life. We can also predict how a pro-biotic organism will grow in a particular medium like a yoghurt, or if it will die out.”

Tom McMeekin says the model has been adopted in Australia and around the world.

“The biggest breakthrough in application we had was with Meat and Livestock Australia who negotiated with AQIS on behalf of the Australian meat industry to change the way meat was tested.

Prior to these predictive models meat in a chiller in an export abattoir had to be cooled and then tested for the e coli or whatever. So retrospective, holding your product until you are sure nothing has grown on it.

Now we can use the model as a surrogate for that testing, and the model gives you an answer in real time.

That is now mandated in the export control orders and that is what monitors safe chilling process in Australian export abattoirs.

Beware funeral home sandwiches and coffee

The Tasmania Mercury is reporting that at least 27 people in Hobart have been sickened with salmonella after eating contaminated sandwiches at two separate funerals late last week.

The food was provided by a catering business which has been temporarily closed down while the Health Department investigates.

Dr. Roscoe Taylor, Tasmania’s Director of Public Health, said,

"We are looking closely at a product containing raw eggs, which was a mayonnaise like ingredient that may have been in the sandwiches and we’re waiting on sampling test results on that to come back."