Tainted Dairy Products Rare in State, Officials Report

Over the last 10 years, there have only been a handful of incidents involving contaminated dairy products, state officials say.

The most recent--before the Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. case--occurred in July, 1984, when inspectors found that raw milk cheeses produced at a Bay Area dairy contained a bacterial toxin that can cause severe food poisoning. The problem was traced to milk supplies that were not kept cool enough to prevent the growth of the bacteria. Officials recalled no serious illnesses in that case.

The owner has recently resumed cheese production, and state inspectors are monitoring his facilities weekly.

Hepatitis Outbreak


In 1980, a hepatitis outbreak was traced to a worker in a Bay Area ice cream plant.

State Department of Health Services officials confirm that few food-borne illnesses have been linked to dairy products.

Between 1963 and the current Jalisco cheese incident, the department has sought the recall of foods from grocery shelves only seven times, according to Stuart Richardson, chief of the department’s food and drug branch.

The cases have ranged from botulism in a gourmet brand of vichyssoise in 1972 to the recall of contaminated bottled oysters in January of this year. Early in 1984, the department arranged the voluntary recall of several brands of cake and muffin mixes because of contamination with the pesticide ethylene dibromide (EDB).


None of the recalls has involved a dairy product, Richardson said. (An exception is the periodic voluntary recall of raw milk from the Alta-Dena Dairy, when state officials find evidence of salmonella infection of the herds.)

Every year, state health officials compile a list of food- and water-borne disease outbreaks reported by county health officers. Unfortunately, the cause is rarely identified, according to department epidemiologist and statistician Florence Morrison.

Dairy Products

But of 40 outbreaks reported to the state in 1984 by county health officers, only two appear to be connected to dairy products, Morrison said. In one case, 13 individuals experienced intestinal problems after eating vanilla ice cream, but the dairy product was never confirmed as the source of the disease. Another instance involved a group of school children who consumed raw milk products while on a visit to Alta-Dena Dairy.


Morrison said that there is no evidence that food-borne disease is on the rise.

“There are no clear trends,” he said. The number of reported outbreaks “depends on how well local health departments are investigating.” Many of the food-related outbreaks in recent years have been linked to consumption of meat and poultry, she said.