Anybody who pays attention to food safety events has got to be tired of the dogma that attends virtually every discussion on raw milk and raw milk-based products. I am certainly not above the law in this regard, as www.foodpoisonjournal.com certainly has a bias against raw dairy products that are contaminated with things that kill people. But even so, it seems that, in 3/4 of raw milk or raw dairy product outbreaks, the purveyors of the fine products back themselves into a corner by making ridiculous pronouncements, leaving themselves with only one defense: deny, deny, deny. (At least we’ve moved past Weston A. Price’s old line that went something like: "there has never been an outbreak linked to raw milk.") See, several blogposts on "The Hartmann Debacle:"
- Three more E. coli cases linked to Hartmann raw milk
- PFGE patterns in Hartmann Dairy raw milk outbreak
- Hartmann Dairy’s typically raw-milkian PR blunder
Morningland Dairy from Missouri has recently been given a death sentence of sorts. It is terrible to see a family operation subject to state action seeking to pretty much take away its livelihood, even if it is rightly in the interest of the public’s safety, but it’s getting even harder to take some of the poor responses being mounted increasingly, and increasingly loudly, by these family run operations themselves.
After its August recall, Morningland criticized the viability of the tests done by California and/or Missouri that had prompted the recall (No epidemiological investigation occurred because there were no known illnesses linked to the product). In an early September statement on the internet (an increasingly dangerous tool for these companies), Morningland touts the fact that a St. Louis, MO lab was now testing Morningland product to "confirm the quality of our cheeses. According to the lab, we should have the test results by Monday, Sept. 6, 2010."
When the results came back, from what I can tell, all 14 samples sent to the lab tested positive for either Listeria monocytogenes or staphylococcus aureus. Ouch! Morningland’s response, now, is that the samples sent to the St. Louis laboratory (I guess all 14 of them) were bad because they were secured improperly. Therefore, even the positive test results generated by the St. Louis laboratory, which were supposed to clear Morningland’s name, are all wrong, and the Missouri milk board is way off base in demanding that Morningland’s product be destroyed. As Morningland puts it:
Contrary to section 196.565 of the Revised Missouri Statutes, the only witness to the sampling from Morningland Dairy was the employee who did the sampling. When Morningland Dairy owners, Joseph & Denise Dixon, learned how the samples were taken, they knew that the tests would be inaccurate and, consequently, erroneous.
Guys, come on. We’re not dumb and neither are your customers. Although sharing any of the values or practices of monolithic agriculture and foodservice is the very antithesis of what it means to be a local raw dairy farmer, they should take some lessons from some bigger companies caught up in major food safety crises. Dole did not fight the spinach E. coli outbreak in September 2006 by saying it didn’t happen, or that the very competent health officials who cracked the case just blundered their way to an unfounded conclusion. ConAgra doesn’t stay the food monolith that it is by telling juries, not to mention the public at large, that these sick people are all full of it when all the epidemiological proof in the world says otherwise. Nor did Jack in the Box survive the landmark 1993 E. coli outbreak by denying that it had had a problem in the first place. Don’t share their values, but learn from the histories that they created.
Most small dairies probably don’t have a PR department, and probably can’t afford one. My word of advice to you is to stop overplaying your hand. And, if there is one organization out there advising you all when you get caught up in a situation like Morningland or Estrella Family Creamery, you need to retain new counsel.