Hawaii’s food safety agency uses embargo to drive raw milk sales off the islands
State and local health departments went for months with no concerns other than the pandemic. But this summer, they are finding the time and personnel to work on other public health issues.
Hawaii, for example, has had an embargo underway for unpasteurized goat milk. The Hawaii Department of Health’s Food Safety Branch found numerous pet stores on O’ahu were selling raw goat milk.
Hawaii retailers and restaurants must purchase only pasteurized Grade A milk and milk products.
Raw milk is not safe for human consumption. As of July 1, the Food Safety Branch found about 20 O’ahu pet stores selling raw milk. Under the embargo, pet stores or any other retailer with raw milk in their possession were fined up to $10,000 a day unless they removed the raw goat milk from sale and destroyed the product.
The pet stores called the raw goat milk “pet food,” but it was diverted for human consumption. According to Peter Oshiro, chief of the Food Safety Branch, many Hawaiians “mistakenly believe” that drinking raw milk is healthy, but this is simply untrue.
Drinking raw milk can result in serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and even death. Milk is pasteurized to remove dangerous pathogens, including E. coli, Salmonella, and other bacteria and viruses that can cause disease.
Children and people with weakened immune systems are especially threatened by drinking raw milk.
Hawaii’s Food Safety Branch conducts routine health inspections of food establishments and investigates sources of foodborne illnesses and potential adulteration, and works to prevent foodborne outbreaks from occurring.
Food Safety Branch inspectors spent July visiting pet supply and food retailers on the islands to enforce the embargo. Stores that immediately removed and destroyed the raw milk were able to escape fines of up to $10,000 a day.
Since 1987, according to FDA, there have been 143 reported outbreaks of illness – some involving miscarriages, stillbirths, kidney failure, and deaths – associated with consumption of raw milk and raw milk products that were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria such as Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli.
FDA has prohibited the interstate sale of raw milk since 1987. Today, 20 states like Hawaii, explicitly prohibit raw milk sales in some form, and 30 allow it in some form. FDA estimates that less than one percent of the consuming public has rejected pasteurization in favor of raw, unpasteurized milk.