On November 30, 2016, the U.S. Marshals Service seized more than 4 million pounds of product produced by Valley Milk Products LLC (Valley Milk) of Strasburg, Virginia. The company is owned by the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association Inc. in Reston, Virginia. The seized products, worth nearly $4 million, include dry nonfat milk powder and buttermilk powder packaged in 40- and 50-pound bags for further manufacturing.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed the complaint, on behalf of the FDA, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia alleging that the seized products are adulterated, as defined by Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
During an FDA inspection of Valley Milk from July to – September 2016, FDA investigators observed poor sanitary practices and reviewed the company’s records, which showed positive results for Salmonella in the plant’s internal environmental and finished product samples. FDA investigators observed residues on internal parts of the processing equipment after it had been cleaned by the company and water dripping from the ceiling onto food manufacturing equipment. In addition, environmental swabs collected during the inspection confirmed the presence of Salmonella meleagridis on surfaces with which food came into contact with after being pasteurized. Throughout the investigation, the FDA worked closely with the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“The FDA urged Valley Milk to conduct a voluntary recall of the implicated products,” said Melinda K. Plaisier, the FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. “The firm refused to recall and, as a result, [the FDA] had to intervene and seize this adulterated food to prevent it from reaching consumers who could be exposed to Salmonella from these products.”
The FDA used a bacterial typing tool called whole genome sequencing (WGS) to link the samples collected in the facility over time. WGS technology can show the relationship among isolates of bacterial pathogens found in the environment, a food source, or a person who became ill from consuming contaminated food. The sampling results indicate that the Salmonella strains from 2016 are nearly identical to Salmonella strains found at the company in 2010, 2011, and 2013. These findings of Salmonella meleagridis at the company dating back several years demonstrate the existence of a persistent strain of Salmonella at this facility.
Salmonella is a pathogenic bacterium that can contaminate foods and which may result in gastroenteritis or other serious clinical conditions, including septicemia, arterial infections, endocarditis, and septic arthritis. Most people recover from salmonellosis in four to seven days without treatment but approximately one person in every thousand with salmonellosis dies.
Valley Milk is currently not producing dry powdered milk products.
See the FDA Announcement
See also Medical Law Perspectives, July 2012 Report: Foodborne Illness: When Grabbing a Bite Can Be Deadly