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Food Briefs : FDA Alert on Raw Milk, School Trips

March 07, 1985|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an advisory warning to local education officials throughout the country suggesting that children be prevented from consuming raw milk during school field trips to dairies.

The information was issued by Antony C. Celeste, acting director of the FDA's federal-state relations section. The message, a copy of which was provided to The Times, stated:

"(The FDA) has been alerted to several instances where school children have participated in field trips to milk farms and dairies. During these field trips some children have been offered raw milk to sample taste. The purpose of this notice is to advise you of a potential public health hazard associated with this practice.

"There have been a number of illnesses associated with the consumption of 'raw' milk experienced by school children who have participated in these field trips to dairies and farms."

The advisory goes on to state that outbreaks (of bacteria) have been associated with school trips to dairies in five states, including California and Canada during the past four years.

"In an effort to minimize potential public health concerns, it is recommended that the children not be permitted to 'sample' or drink raw milk on these visits," the memo stated.

The FDA advisory certainly has implications for Alta-Dena Dairies in the City of Industry. The nation's leading producer of raw milk and raw milk products was charged, during recent congressional testimony in Los Angeles, with being the source of a camphylobacter infection in a young girl who visited the dairy on a school field trip in June, 1984. The girl's father testified that the 9-year-old had sampled Alta-Dena raw certified milk during the visit and became ill two days later.

Los Angeles County health officials also reported that eight other children on the same field trip, who consumed raw milk, later became ill with camphylobacter, an infection that causes diarrhea, vomiting and high fever.

In the past, officials of Alta-Dena have denied any association with the camphylobacter incident.

Another outbreak occurred in Tulare County when 25 grade-school children became ill with symptoms associated with camphylobacter after sampling raw milk at a farm in October, 1984. Tests later revealed that 18 were infected with camphylobacter, according to Joe Smucker, senior milk specialist in the FDA's San Francisco office.

The Strawberry Explosion--A review of last year's strawberry season reveals that a record crop of 50 million trays was harvested nationwide in 1984, a 42% improvement over the 1983 season, according to California Farmer magazine.

The figures seem impressive, but are difficult to conceptualize. The statistics become more understandable, however, when one is told that during a five-week period from mid-April through mid-May the crop totaled 15 million trays or about one pint of strawberries for every person in the United States.

The success that growers are experiencing with strawberries is not an occasion for celebration on their part. The 1984 berry glut caused prices to fall. In fact, the 1985 strawberry season begins with predictions that this could be another banner year for berry production, ultimately meaning further reduced prices to growers. There is also a corresponding possibility that consumers may benefit from the farmers' misfortune with lower retail strawberry prices.

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