Meadow Gold ordered to halt distribution, sale of 2-percent reduced fat milk

Update from March 7, 2017: The state has lifted the suspension of Meadow Gold Dairies two-percent reduced fat milk. View the full update here.

The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) has ordered Meadow Gold Dairies, one of Hawaii’s biggest suppliers of milk, to stop its distribution and sale of two-percent reduced fat milk.

DOH issued a Cease and Desist Order to the company Monday after laboratory results from routine milk samples exceeded standard limits for Coliform bacteria.

“Milk production is regulated with routine testing both at the farm and after packaging to ensure a safe product,” said Peter Oshiro, program manager of the DOH Sanitation Branch. “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.”

Samples of two-percent reduced fat milk taken from Meadow Gold Dairies on Jan. 19, Feb. 6 and 22, 2017, revealed excessive Coliform counts of more than 150/ml, 130/ml and more than 150/ml respectively.

The maximum allowed Coliform limit for pasteurized milk is 10/ml. Coliform is used an indicator of post-pasteurization contamination.

Officials say this is not a recall. Oshiro says the company is facing a quality control issue, which should not be confused with a public safety issue.

Oshiro says the milk you currently see in the stores is safe to drink “which is why we have not removed it from the shelf. These are quality control violations that Meadow Gold was hit with.

“We don’t want it to lead to a point where the producer loses quality control of the product,” he added. “They have to step back, stop processing this type of milk, reassess what the problem is, and after we will go out inspect again, pull samples, and once they can show us they can pass three more sampling events, allow to produce that milk and market it again.”

“This amount of bacteria is actually just precautionary. The amount of bacteria allowed is only 10 per cc (cubic centimeter) and we are a little higher than that at 130 to 150 per cc, but it’s not like this is riddled with Coliform bacteria and indicates dangerous contamination,” said Dr. Kalani Brady with the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.

The health department says the quality control violation could have happened a number of ways, including mishandling of clean milk cartons.

Meadow Gold is a large, local distributor of milk, and therefore its milk affects brands that include any two-percent product distributed with a 15-01 code.

The Hawaii Department of Education serves Meadow Gold milk to students, but only one-percent, skim, and chocolate milks, not two-percent.

Meadow Gold’s owner, Dean Foods Company, released the following statement:

“Meadow Gold Dairy is committed to producing the highest quality products available and is taking this situation very seriously. 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.

We are quickly and carefully reviewing all the available information and completing a very rigorous battery of tests, assessments and analyses. We will work with the Department of Health to understand their test results and identify a proper course of action.

All our current internal testing indicates no quality or safety concerns, yet until regulatory testing confirms the same, we have been asked to stop production of 2% milk at our Honolulu plant. In order to continue supplying milk to consumers in Hawaii, we are moving the production of 2% milk to other facilities, including our processing plant in Hilo on the Big Island. As the Department of Health has said, no other milk products are impacted at this time.”

Out of an abundance of caution, Times Supermarkets says it has temporarily removed the milk from its store shelves in order to avoid any concerns shoppers
may have.

“According to the Department of Health, all other Meadow Gold Dairies milk products besides the 2% reduced fat milk meet the state and federal standards required for distribution and sale,” said Chris Borden, Times Supermarkets senior director of marketing and merchandising.

DOH conducts monthly testing of samples of all Grade A raw and pasteurized milk produced at dairy farms and milk plants in Hawaii. State and Federal regulations require that samples be taken a minimum of four out of every six months, though most jurisdictions in the nation, like Hawaii, conduct sampling every month. DOH may also accelerate routine sampling of a specific product whenever product samples do not meet required standards.

Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 11 Chapter 15 states that the DOH may suspend the distribution and sale of a particular milk product produced by a milk plant, whenever the product is in violation three times out of the last five consecutive samples for the first three Critical Control Point (CCP) standards listed below.

Critical Control Point Critical Limits
Temperature 45°F or less
Bacterial Limits 10,000/ml or less
Coliform 10/ml or less
Phosphatase 1mcg/ml or less
Antibiotics No Positive results on drug residue detection

To resume distribution and sale of two-percent reduced fat milk, Meadow Gold Dairies must pass health inspections and undergo additional testing of product samples. All other milk products from Meadow Gold Dairies meet state and federal standards required for distribution and sale.

“They obviously were not happy about it, but they’ve committed to go back and re-look at their processes,” Oshiro said. “We’re fully confident they’ll be able to solve this problem and hopefully prevent it from happening again.

“These extreme strict standards are what has kept milk safe in the nation for decades. We have very few, in fact no foodborne illness outbreaks coming from pasteurized milk plants because of these stringent controls,” Oshiro added. “That’s why we have no illnesses, no hospitalizations, and the reason why is because of these ultra strict standards on the quality of the milk product.”

Coliform is a broad class of bacteria found in our environment, including in feces.

E. coli is a type of Coliform that can make you sick. It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, respiratory illness, and fever. Symptoms can appear between one and 10 days after exposure, and often begin slowly.

 

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