By: Candess Zona-Mendola

This week, the Honolulu based Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) ordered dairy giant, Meadow Gold Dairies, to immediately cease and desist all distribution and sale of its two-percent reduced fat milk products. This Cease and Desist Order comes shortly after the DOH received laboratory results showing that coliform bacteria limits (like E. Coli and Enterobacter) exceeded standard limited in milk samples. In accordance with Hawaii laws, DOH monthly tests all raw and pasteurized milk products produced at dairy farms and in manufacturing facilities, even though most states only require sampling occur at least four out of every six months. DOH informed the public that it “may also accelerate routine sampling of a specific product whenever product samples do not meet required standards.” That is exactly what the DOH did in this case.

The DOH invoked its authority to halt milk sales in accordance with Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 11 Chapter 15, which allows sales suspension upon the notice of multiple product violations.

About the Notice, Investigation

The DOH conducted its monthly inspection and testing of Meadow Gold Dairies two-percent milk products on three occasions, January 19, 2017, February 6, 2017, and February 22, 2017. All three test samples tested positive for exceeded levels of coliform bacteria. Some samples showed results that exceeded 10 times the minimum standard. The results of the sample tests exposed 150 coliforms per milliliter, 130 per milliliter and more than 150 per milliliter, respectively.

As the presence of coliform is used as a post-pasteurization indicator that the process is working properly, these results could demonstrate an issue in Meadow Gold’s pasteurization methods or process. DOH representatives have stated that “the maximum allowed Coliform limit for pasteurized milk is 10/ml. Coliform is used an indicator of post-pasteurization contamination.” These tests have given the DOH some red flags in Meadow Gold Dairies processing methods.

According to the Program Manager of DOH’s Sanitation Branch Peter Oshiro,

 “Milk production is regulated with routine testing both at the farm and after packaging to ensure a safe product… Department of Health inspectors will work with Meadow Gold Dairies to investigate the possible source of contamination, approve a plan of correction, and conduct further testing to confirm the company meets the standards to resume two-percent reduced fat milk distribution and sale.”

As DOH continues its investigation, they have put Meadow Gold Dairies on notice that they must meet some requirements to resume milk sales. To resume sales and distribution, the company must not only pass its health inspections and submit to additional testing of its products, but all of the company’s products must be found to adhere to state and federal standards required for distribution and sale. Some of these standards include Hawaii state law’s Critical Control Point (CCP) standards, which include:

  • Temperature must be 45 degrees F or less;
  • Bacterial limits are 10,000/ml or less;
  • Coliform limits are or less;
  • Phosphatase limit is 1 mcg/ml or less; and
  • Antibiotics residues are not allowed.

On February 27, 2017, the company issued a public statement on its stance regarding the cease and desist order,

“Today, the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) has ordered Meadow Gold Dairies to stop its distribution and sale of two-percent reduced fat milk… Be advised that this restriction on sale and distribution applies only to two-percent reduced fat milk and does not affect any of our other milk products.”

The company also placed the DOH’s statement in its release, verbatim, with a highlight on the area stating that DOH health inspectors are working with the company to identify the contamination, make an action plan, and conduct testing.

The following day, the company posted an additional notice on its Facebook, which consisted of a letter from the DOH clarifying that milk currently on retail shelves was safe for drinking.

This week, Meadow Gold Dairies’ parent company, Dean Foods, through its Spokesman Jamaison Schuler, informed the media that the company’s own testing methods did not show any safety issues. He mentioned that the coliforms found in milk are safe to drink, but could cause premature spoilage of the products. Mr. Schuler commented to the press,

“We test our products regularly before, during and after processing to ensure quality, and it’s important to understand that product being sold in stores is not affected …We have not received any consumer complaints.”

As of the writing of this post, Meadow Gold Dairies sales on its two-percent reduced fat milk products are still on hold.

Not the First Time …

This is not the first time Meadow Gold Dairies’ pasteurization methods have been called into question. In June of 2016, the company’s Boise, Idaho plant was subject to a voluntary recall of 10,000 units of several dairy products, like whipping cream and half and half, due to insufficient pasteurization. The recall affected four states: Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah.

The company worked in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and issued its recall notice on June 1, 2016 after a routine records review. According to the company in its recall notice,

“It is possible that pathogens present in raw milk, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and/or E. coli, may have survived and, if ingested, could cause serious or life threatening issues. Meadow Gold Dairy has received no reports of illnesses related to the affected product to date and is removing the product from the market. Consumers who have this product should not consume it. They should discard it and may return the product package to the place of purchase for a full refund or exchange.”

Raw Milk, Seriously?

In the wake of Meadow Gold Dairies’ sales suspension, Hawaiian raw milk advocates have renewed their plight to legalize raw milk sales. Raw milk enthusiast and locavore Monique Vanderstroom, who also owns the Naked Cow Dairy Farm in Waianae, said that Hawaiian citizens are demanding more options. Ms. Vanderstroom claims “[t]here’s enough people here [in Hawaii] that want it [raw milk]. Anytime we can produce our own food here, I think it adds to the sustainability of the islands as a whole.” Despite the potential demand, the DOH is not in agreeance with Ms. Vanderstroom. Mr. Oshiro responded to the renewed vigor for the bill as “[t]he risk is so high it outweighs any purported benefit which has not been proven. In the meantime, Hawaiian dairy farms will continue to be held to the standards of pasteurization of milk prior to retail sale.