Fans of the Estrella Family Creamery got a shock at the U-District farmers market this morning, but likely not as big a shock as the kids of this Montesano family got when the FDA showed up to shut the creamery down.
The claim: Risk of exposure to Listeria. However, Estrella’s current inspection records (available today at the market) show that all cheeses have tested negative. There was apparently a positive test for Listeria at a point in the past, and so the FDA decided to shut down the dairy on the claim that the cheese might have Listeria, with no burden of proof to demonstrate they do, or to acknowledge records that show this is no longer a problem.
Anthony Estrella said this morning that even starting to fight this would cost $20,000-$30,000 or pro bono legal representation.
We all know there are a lot of politics around raw milk and raw milk products, and this farm makes (aged) cheeses from raw milk, following Washington State regulations.
This is a wonderful farm. Anthony and Kelli have won numerous awards for their cheeses. They’re an incredibly hardworking family. I went out there to volunteer one weekend a few winters ago when their farm faced damage from the huge windstorm that wrecked that part of the state, and was impressed then and now by both their work and their products.
They and their kids are, as you can imagine, extremely upset. The FDA agents showed up when the parents were out, which added to the emotions of the raid.
If you can help, please contact Anthony and Kelli. Legal/advocacy help, voicing your feelings as a customer on their behalf, wishes/prayers, or any other relevant resources sound welcome.
Also, contacting Rep. Norm Dicks, especially if you live in his legislative district (mostly Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas), would be helpful. 1-800-947-NORM (947-6676), or email via his contact form.
Kelli’s brief statement about the shut-down is here.
Here is their contact info:
photo of family: Estrella Family Creamery website
Thanks everyone for the good discussion below. As with any such story, more information is coming out, and each side deserves a response. The FDA’s affidavit is below in the comments, suggesting their concerns and basis for the shut-down, including a statement that they requested the operation recall its cheeses in September and the request was refused. The concern is that this has been a persistent problem, but the current records showing all cheeses test negative seem to suggest the problem might have cleared up. Could the FDA have handled this better? How much did each sides’ negative views of the other (FDA views of raw milk dairy producers, Estrellas’ views of the FDA) play a role in this? If the most recent tests really did come back negative, was there another way the FDA could have worked with the farm, or the farm with the FDA? What is the best thing to be done now, and what lessons are there in this for both the FDA and small producers in the future?
Anyway, many questions, and still a sad situation all around.
I’ll post this separately, but here’s a good context/background article on the FDA’s use of L. mono to shut down raw milk dairies. It’s from the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
Kelli posted this on the Estrella website. I’ll post updates if I hear them, but that’s a good place, obviously, to be checking too.