Where Do We Go From Here?
By: Edwin Shank February 3, 2012
NOTE: It is very hard for me to write this materialistic, factual, moving-forward email right on the trails of the last which took so much of my heart and spirit. It somehow seems a little like talking in church…breaking the hush of a solemn occasion. But we live in a real world and I know the last message left so many practical questions unanswered. I’ll try to cover some of them here.
What Is The Safety Status Of The Family Cow Raw Milk Today?
This is a very perceptive question because the MD samples that tested positive yesterday are over two weeks old. Those sample results are very important to the PA and MD Department of Health’s on-going epidemiology study, but they are history as far as the present safety status of our raw milk is concerned.
Let me share with you the steps our family took to sort through the fog of last week and this week to double check and re-verify that the current raw milk being produced at The Family Cow is safe and pathogen free This might get a little long…sorry but it feels like 100 years.
First we voluntarily halted all sales. Even though we at this time were working with a lot of unknowns we knew it was best to totally stop sales till we knew more. Next we called our PA certified milk tester and lab technician for assistance. At their direction we pulled three pints of fresh Family Cow raw milk from our store refrigerator, making sure each was from a separate bottling, packed them on ice in a Styrofoam cooler and rushed them via “FedEx Overnight “ to QC Laboratory. (QC Lab is a “PA approved” lab, which means that PDA accepts its testing as valid.) We requested that each of the 3 pints be tested for 4 separate pathogens. The pints were all from the bottling lots immediately following the suspected date of Jan 16th.
When QC labs called at Monday lunch time to confirm that all three of the samples were 100% pathogen free…all 12 totally negative tests including campylobacter jejune!… the whole family and team was ecstatic. There were hugs and high fives all around and some tears. There were even some hugs from customers who happened to be here. (Thank you for those…you know who you are We will never forget you!)
Why the ecstasy?… because these tests are of extreme significance. They accurately, scientifically reflect the present Safety of The Family Cow Raw Milk. They prove that the ‘bad-milk’ incident two weeks ago that we suspected and MD and PA Health are just now verifying, was a once-and-past-happening.
These fresh pints were all filled in three consecutive bottling’s, spread out over a whole week immediately following the ‘bad’ incident but before we knew there had been a ’bad’ incident. They are a perfect double blind study of our family and team’s daily performance. They were completely random, unprepared-for tests. The cows had been fed, and milked all following normal procedures. The bottles had been filled, capped and dated at our filler, and placed into the refrigerator. All of the steps had been done according to our normal protocol. And all this had been done without the slightest hint when we were doing it that these pints would be used as such crucial evidence of our performance.
How Can We Be Sure This Does Not Repeat? What Corrective Steps Have We Taken?
Good question! There are many small adjustments…here are a few of the big ones.
Major Improvement to Our Hot Water System. We have used the down time to make these renovations. Extremely hot water is needed for washing the milk tank, milking system and bottler. We suspect a hot water heater that was making hot water (140-150 degrees) but not super-hot (160-170 degrees) played a part in this. We replaced the older heater with a high tech, computerized “tank-less” system that consistently delivers 180 degree water or hotter if we wish.
A SMART Monitoring System: About the time this all was happening, Agri-Service, the local dairy supply and service company that also installed our new hot water system, was putting the finishing touches on a web based monitoring system for dairy. The timing was perfect…well, actually I wish it would have been a month earlier! This system monitors a whole handful of control points in the milking, cooling and washing process. And yes, one of the critical control points is hot water. If the new water heater loses capacity slowly like our old one did, run out of propane on any other of imaginable problem, the computer of this system will send an email alert to our smart phones instantly. This system is up and running now. Neil, Rodrick and I are beyond impressed! It makes so much sense…fix the problem before it becomes a REAL problem!
We Are Outfitting Our Own Laboratory: Then we will be able to initiate a new test and hold protocol we have long dreamed of. By test and hold, we mean we will test every lot of milk we bottle and hold it till the test show that it is clear to go. This is a major food safety improvement! I’ll explain more later how the new testing protocol differs from what is required by PDA, but let’s just suffice to say that it’s the difference between looking in your rear-view mirror vs. the windshield while driving. My Dad is installing the cabinet today and Neil is purchasing the petri film, incubators and other equipment we will need. We will still use the state approved QC labs for all the official required testing, but this will give us an extremely proactive monitoring edge right here on the farm.
So When Do We Sell Milk Again?
I wish I could tell you, but we don’t have that answer for you at this time.
Wednesday afternoon during two separate consultations with PDA and PDH, we were told that there was nothing that would be illegal about us resuming sales. After a lot of serious discussion among our family, we decided to bring the raw milk back. Based on the renovations that we had made and the fact that we had so many clear pathogen tests even before we made the changes, we felt 100% confident in the decision. Thursday, we sent out announcements and informed our ecstatic customers at drop points and retail stores that we were bringing the raw milk again. We were just getting ready to put a newsletter out to everyone when PDA contacted us and instituted a whole new round of testing.
So this is where we are today. Waiting, selling lots of other foods from our farm and drop points, but the store fridge is empty. PDA says they will have their lab technician’s work over time to get the new testing done ASAP. We are co-operating with them to the best of our ability. We’ll let you know the second we have approval to go again.
Please be patient friends. We will survive. You will survive. The Family Cow Raw Milk will survive and be back even better and safer and healthier than before.
Thanks so much for all your prayers and kind emails. They are exceedingly precious to our family. It makes us value each of your friendship and support more than ever!
All the Best of Food and Blessings and Best of Health to All
Your Farmer ~ Edwin
The Family Cow