Chocolate milk recall

Barbara Martin holds her Dairy Goddess Farmstead cheese. (Apolinar Fonseca/The Sentinel)

LEMOORE — A recall and quarantine of chocolate milk produced by a Lemoore dairy and sold at farmers markets has been lifted.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture dropped restrictions on the product, giving Dairy Goddess co-owners Tony and Barbara Martin a verbal go-ahead Wednesday and issuing a formal OK Thursday.

“Cream Top Chocolate Milk,” made by Dairy Goddess, was the subject of a recall and quarantine order announced by Dr. Annette Whiteford, the state veterinarian, on Monday, according to a press release issued by the state agency.

“The quarantine order came following the determination that a lack of proper pasteurization could have allowed dangerous pathogens to survive in the milk,” according to the release. “No illnesses have been reported, and the producer is cooperating with the recall.”

The company reacted quickly, and tests conducted by the state department Tuesday showed the chocolate milk met requirements, leading to the lifting of the quarantine.

“They are back in business. ... In this case it was pretty simple because they are limited to a few farmers markets,” Jay Van Rein, a food and agriculture spokesman, said Thursday,

The recall centered on a supply of the chocolate milk that carried an expiration date of July 11. The bad batch of chocolate milk was marketed only at farmers markets in San Luis Obispo and Clovis and sold in 8-ounce, quart and half-gallon containers.

Barbara Martin, who has actively promoted her company in a popular blog and on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, quickly went on the offensive to alert her biggest fans. A posting on her Facebook page Monday noted: “Dairy Goddess’ wreath is a bit tattered today.”

Martin explained to her customers that tests conducted by CDFA showed the chocolate milk contained residual Phosphatase, indicating it was not fully pasteurized. Martin said the improper pasteurization took place because a small amount of milk was in a hose that didn’t get pasteurized and contaminated the whole batch. She said the problem had been fixed, urged customers to dispose of milk with the July 11 expiration date and pledged to be back selling by Thursday.

“I wanted my people to hear from me and let them know we were working day and night to fix the problem,” said Martin.

Martin said both the company’s regular and chocolate milk had been introduced only in the last couple of months and were sold only in 12 farmers markets in Kings, Fresno, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles counties.

“Because it is a new product, we haven’t even approached the stores about it,” said Martin. She said the controversy had actually attracted some interest from a distributor that serves 200 stores.

The company’s Fromage Blanc French-style fresh cheese, marketed as Dairy Goddess Farmstead Cheese, was introduced in August 2010. It is sold in about a dozen Valley stores.

Martin called the experience “humbling,” and said her customers showed strong support throughout the quarantine. Martin sold the chocolate milk and the company’s regular milk and cheese at farmers markets in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo Thursday and reported record sales of her products.

“That’s pretty amazing, and shows the great support we have from the community,” said Martin. “Sometimes, when things seem the darkest, with the support of your customers, you can survive. When you are small and independent, people trust you and defend you fiercely.”

Dairy Goddess products are featured locally each Thursday at the Thursday Night Market Place events in downtown Hanford.

The company’s production is done in a 650-square-foot plant on their dairy, which is located northwest of Lemoore. Martin said the company is working to expand storage and refrigeration capabilities to allow it to continue to grow.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423.

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