Feds Raid Estrella Family Creamery

In what the Seattle Times described as “an unusual action,” the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered a popular cheese maker to shut down after the firm—Estrella Family Creamery—refused to issue a recall for potential <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/listeria">Listeria contamination.

The cheeses made by the firm are award-winning raw-milk cheeses sold at specialty cheese shops; farmers markets; the company’s farm store in Montesano, Washington; and through the Internet. The company also sells to restaurants and takes part in cheese contests where its products are sold. According to the state Department of Health, to date, no illnesses have been linked to the cheeses.

We recently wrote that the FDA issued a warning to consumers about Estrella Family Creamery cheeses, saying that all lots of Estrella cheeses put consumers at risk for Listeria monocytogenes, including soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses.

This was not the first recall by the Estrella Family Creamery and not the first time we’ve written about contaminated cheese products produced by this firm. The company previously recalled cheeses due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination, but resumed marketing in May 2010. In February, Estrella Family Creamery recalled Red Darla Cheese, following that recall the next week with an expanded recall of various cheeses, both due to health risks. In March, Estrella Family Creamery recalled its Old Apple Tree Tomme Cheese, also over possible health risks. Estrella manufactures about 18 varieties of soft ripened, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses made from raw cow or goat milk and aged 60 days or longer.

Issues at Estrella were likely in a so-called cave in which soft cheeses age, said co-owner Kelli Estrella, who noted that softer cheeses are more prone to bacteria, said the Seattle Times. “We very aggressively went after the problem,” said Estrella. Later, during the August investigation by the FDA, a number of swabs taken at the location tested positive for the pathogen, wrote Seattle News. “They found I think a total of four in the whole entire place,” Estrella said.

The firm argues that, although court records indicate Estrella has been conducting ongoing testing with six turning up positive from May to August, the results are misleading since tests occurred before changes were made following the recalls, wrote the Seattle Times. “… To my best remembrance, there was only two isolated positives,” said Estrella.

Estrella refused a recall saying that the agency demanded a full recall of all cheeses. “There was no proof they needed to do something that aggressive,” Estrella said. “That would essentially put us out of business,” quoted the Seattle Times. In response, and with court papers, the FDA seized all the cheeses, said the Seattle Times, noting that the court papers indicated that because Listeria was repeatedly found over time, this “demonstrates that sanitation efforts were inadequate,” quoted the Seattle Times.

Estrella said, “To me the subject of this whole thing isn’t really about listeria …. It’s about liberty and freedoms,” reported the Seattle Times, which also noted that the firm’s website indicates Estrella saying that the action is similar “to government attempts to take away guns and said her faith in God would help the family get through this,” wrote Seattle Times. The post has been removed

But, poisoning with the Listeria monocytogenes pathogen can be very dangerous and should be taken seriously. The pathogen is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Listeria infections can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

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