Local Cheese Creamery raided by federal agents

The Estrellas’ Cheese Creamery located near Montesano, WA. in the Wynoochee River valley has been shut down by federal agents.  The full story as reported by KIRO can be found below.

Amicus Curia, local goatherd & cheese meister

Unlike the Estrellas, my own strategy has been to avoid using raw milk.  I rely on heat treatment (more efficient than pasteurization) to keep my goat milk and cheeses safe.  But the Estrellas have an immaculate professional cheese production facility that’s internationally acclaimed for good reason.  I’ve never tasted better cheeses anywhere.

Pia gathers fresh goat milk

Now, the Estrellas need the community’s support to survive.  It’s ironic how iron handed our government can be in administering regulations (food safety) involving small local farms while giving greedy corporations such as Adage and Simpson virtual carte blanche when it comes to the health and safety of the community the companies are intent on destroying for profit.

Skokomish Nubian winter-land

KIROTV video of interview with the Estrellas can be seen at the following link:


On Oct. 21, 2010, the United States Marshals Service seized all cheeses, including in-process and finished products (labeled and unlabeled), held on the premises of the Estrella Family Creamery, pursuant to a warrant issued by Judge Benjamin H. Settle on Oct. 21, 2010. Judge Settle issued this warrant at the request of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, which filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington alleging that cheese and other articles of food held at Estrella Family Creamery are adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because they have been held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.

FDA Inspection Report of Deficiencies

Affidavit of Lisa Elrand supporting federal seizure warrant petition

Alternative view of Raw Milk/Cheese shutdown controversy

2nd Alternative view of Estrella Farm controversy

How the Estrella Family Creamery Raid Came Down

BY DAN FLYNN | OCT 26, 2010
Last week’s seizure of all the cheeses and other food products from the Estrella Family Creamery was more by the book than “Gestapo-like.”
U.S. District Attorney for Western Washington Jenny A. Durkan’s office Monday released court documents leading up to the seizures, which were apparently carried out at around 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21 by U.S. Marshals and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents.
The seizure warrant was signed under seal by a U.S. District Court judge on Oct. 20.
Lisa Elrand, FDA compliance officer, filed an affidavit that became the basis for the action.
Samples taken at the Estrella Family Creamery by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WADA) on Feb. 1 and 9; and March 1 all “revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes (“L mono”) in the finished cheese, in the salt brine, and throughout the production and storage areas,” the FDA officer said.
“L mono is an opportunistic pathogen capable of causing the illness listeriosis, which can result in death, especially in aged, infirm, very young, or immunocompromised individuals,” she added.  “As a result of WADA’s discovery of L. mono, Estrella initiated recalls of several cheese products on Feb. 10, Feb. 15, and March 5, 2010.”
Elrand said FDA inspected the Estrella Family Creamery, the small family dairy that manufactures and sells specialty aged cheeses from raw cow and goat milk, last Aug. 2. Inspectors collected various environmental samples, as well as finished cheese products.
FDA laboratory analysis found Listeria monocytogenes bacteria were present in processing areas and the aging room, especially an area known as “Cave 3.”  Investigators said cheese was being cut and wrapped in the cheese room where bacteria were detected.
Estrella tested its products from March to May 2010, and a March 2010 sample tested positive for Listeria, the company told FDA.
During another visit on Aug. 16, FDA took a sample of “Caldwell Crik Chevrette” made on April 27.  Estrella said that cheese was ready to be distributed, and it tested positive for Listeria.
FDA found a common Pulsed Field Gel Electrophopresis (PFGE) pattern, or “genetic fingerprint” for the Listeria bacteria that were collected in tests from February through August in both product and environmental samples.
“The presence of a persistent strain of L. mono in the facility over time is significant in that it demonstrates that sanitation efforts were inadequate to remove this pathogenic organism,” Elrand said in the affidavit.
The most recent inspection at Estrella came on Sept. 1.  The company shared laboratory reports for products that were contaminated with L. mono from May 28, June 15 and 29, July 8 and Aug. 30.
On Sept. 3, FDA asked Estrella to recall all its cheese products.  Estrella refused.
FDA issued a public warning about the risk of eating Estrella’s cheeses because of possible Listeria contamination on Sept. 4.
The FDA compliance officer said its investigators had observed numerous insanitary conditions at Estrella, including tape and peeling paint on the cheese press handles, flying insects and spiders on the walls and ceiling of the milk room vestibule and in the cheese processing room.
Because the warrant was sealed until served, owner Kelli Estrella was first to get the word out on the creamery’s blog on Friday.  “Last night, ” she wrote, “at about 5:30 three cars pulled into the yard with the FDA and Federal Marshals, alarming our kids. They posted a seizure order that name all cheeses on the property.  This is serious, it could put us out of business.”
Early Monday, she wrote a longer post, accusing the federal agents of being “gestapo like people” who were polluting Estrella’s cheese caves with their camera, testing tools and “just their presence.”
“This year has been flat out brutal,” she added.

Skokomish unnamed creek and Nubian buck enclosure

The federal government’s “basis for forfeiture” was the fact that the cheeses being held for interstate commerce were adulterated.

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3 Responses to Local Cheese Creamery raided by federal agents

  1. admin says:

    Doc Mudd
    These manufacturers were made aware of the problem for the better part of this entire year. No progress at cleaning up to make safe product. Instead, now investing all their effort in hystrionics over finally being shut down before they killed anyone by sickening them with Listeria (hopefully that’s been avoided).

    No sympathy for these business people and their callous disregard for public safety.

    Tim Lukens
    Thanks for the article. The inspection process was over a reasonable period of time, allowing for correction. The PFGE showed that the same strain of contamination was present from the start to the finish, not only in the enviromental samples but also throughout the processing facility. And as noted in one particular aging room. It should be noted that Listeria is a pathogen that continues to grow in refrigerated conditions, so if it is present keeping products cold does not slow the growth rate, therefore the problem compounds until proper sanitation procedures are implemented to kill it.

    Michael Bulger
    You have to feel for their adopted Liberian children, though. One can’t help but think it would have been a better investment to shut the operation down until tests came back negative.

    kevin bjornson
    Government has created the problem by outlawing the use of Hydrogen Peroxide (oxygenated water) or ozone (oxygen with an extra atom of oxygen, or O3) to sterilize milk.

    Instead government dictates the use of pasteurization,
    the heat of this barbaric process kills beneficial bacteria and vitamins.
    Raw milk also tastes better. Many people prefer raw milk products.

    This type of government is dangerous to human health.
    Unfortunately most voters are not well-versed in this type of arcane knowledge, so ignorantly support politicians who are clueless.

    Oh, no. Not another Ozone Nutter: http://noodlemaz.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/germ-warfare/

    By the way, any science-based types feel like going over to this blog to set the proprietors straight on this? They’re only publishing the Estrellas’ version of events, which leaves out, oh, 95% of the story: http://seattlelocalfood.com/2010/10/23/please-help-estrella-family-creamery/

    I was surprised to read that all the Estrella children are Librarians. This seems to be a very narrow vocational focus in one family. If the business goes under, it will be very difficult for the these children to find jobs espcially in a small rural community- HOw many libraries can there be? I am saddened to think that this family may have to separate to survive. SOmething needs to be done to save the nuclear family!

    Doc Mudd
    Heh, heh. Oh well, RBJ, the Estrella librarians still have plenty to look up and catalogue regarding food safety, safe manufacturing practices, maybe some microbiology and epidemiology. No end to the timely research this bookish family business could be doing for months, even years to come.
    Just need to get serious about their work, and especially serious their patrons’ welfare. That would be real job security, eh?

    Oh wow… so much hypocrisy…

    Infectious research labs being moved to cattle slaughter country and no one says a thing. Aluminum being sprayed over everyone’s head – no one says a thing. Massive poisoning with salmonella via lettuce – no one says a thing. Bottled water being filled from faucets – no one says a thing…

    But some hypothetical string of bacteria that is supposedly “not-so-good,” but is not dangerous – BRING THE F@#$%NG SWAT TEAM!!!

    What is wrong with this?.
    Welcome to Democratic America! Better pay attention to S510! It’s coming to all of YOU!!!

    The cheeses made by the firm are award-winning raw-milk cheeses. No illnesses have been linked with the cheeses,the state Department of Health…….. Remember the place in Cali that was also Raided with guns drawn!!! for having RAW MILK PRODUCTS?
    humm……. They act like it is crack cocaine or heroin!

    Kevin Bjornson
    To call me an “ozone nutter” is rude; methinks the lady doth protest too loudly.
    The “noddlemaz” article cited was from what looked like someone’s personal blog, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the sterilization of dairy products. If you had bothered to read the article (as opposed to citing the first anti-ozone article Google brought to your browser), you would know that the article featured some ridiculous gadget for trying to sterilize hands with ozone gas.
    Breathing ozone is not a good idea. However that’s not what I advocated (which you would know if you had read my post). I advocated the use of ozone in a liquid. That’s a completely different type of operation and does not emit significant amounts of ozone into the atmosphere. There are ways of dealing with this issue.
    Trace amounts of ozone are not harmful, and are found naturally in many environments. Ozone dissipates quickly, since the extra atom of oxygen wants to break free and oxidize complex molecules.
    I refer readers to “Acres USA” magazine, which has featured many thoughtful articles on this topic.

    I know first-hand that their Liberian children are also their farm workers. These childern have not been in school for several years. The family will say they are home schooled but I challenge any agency to produce records of required standardized testing results from these children. Can they read to grade level? Can they write at grade level? Can they think through problems and solve them? They rise early, work hard all day, and go to bed late. While the Estrella’s profess to be instilling a solid work ethic in their children, they have forgotten that they are CHILDREN and they deserve to be educated so that they can make their own way in the world. Now that the creamery is shut down, what do the kids have? This community and the government should be looking at what is happening in this home, not just on this farm. These young lives are worth more and are more important than any cheese. But yet they are invisible.

    Wait a sec…6 children adopted from liberia working at a farm? Under what conditions? quote from their website “Together the kids are learning that hard work won’t kill them” ( i sure hope not!!) obviously the Estrella are providing them only with food and shelter but no money since they are “their children”… The way i see it is that it’s cheaper to “adopt” children from a poor country and let/make them work at your farm rather than hire workers. I would call this 21st century slavery.
    Am i the only one to see this?

  2. admin says:

    The Estrellas’ creamery is in serious trouble. Check out the following news/link:

    I feel this is a classic example of the risks of using raw milk in the making of dairy products. Her refusal to recall the cheeses didn’t help either. It’s been said, you can’t beat City Hall. Well, that goes even further when it comes to the federal government. I like the Estrellas’ operation and hope their business survives this crisis. But this has hurt their credibility…more from her refusal to recall (leading to the raid) and failure to adequately remedy the Listeria contamination over time after discovery than the incident itself.

    I really like the family and the taste of their cheeses. I hope she can be persuaded to eliminate raw milk in her production line and has the strength to rebuild the reputation of her internationally acclaimed cheeses. After all, Odwalla (fruit juices) managed, didn’t they?

  3. admin says:

    Kenneth Fox | November 20, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    One more comment. I, as an individual, do not want to get sick from improperly prepared cheese. I am 67 years old, love cheese, but because of my age have a lowered immune response and don’t want the risk of Listeria. FDA is simply, in their action, pointing out that by finding listeria monocytogenes, the conditions are right in the cheese and more might be found if examined. Its simple statistics. Why risk a human life when you can simply destroy some cheese. I agree that I wouldn’t want to be the owner of that cheese, but that seems to be the cost of doing business. If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, better get out.

    John Jackson | November 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    I saw another article in the NY Times about the prevalence of listeria in artisanal cheese. It says that listeria is very common on farms; that close vigilance is necessary; and that many cheesemakers are not adequately trained.

    Perhaps the Estrellas can tell us precisely what their training has been; what sanitation steps they had been taking prior to the first inspection; how they changed their procedures; and what they did after the second inspection in August showed that their facility and cheese was still contaminated.

    Those are much tougher and less glamorous subjects than pointing the finger at the big, bad federal government. So be it. Bacteria aren’t real glamorous either, and I guarantee you that the flu is even less glamorous. Especially if it hits a pregnant women, a small child, an old person, or someone with other medical issues.

    Someone needs to remember this: We’re are talking about food. It is supposed to nourish us, not make us sick, or worse. That is Job #1, and everything else is secondary.

    Tim Prussic | November 22, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    John, I don’t have that “unglamorous” information at my fingertips, but I do know that the EFC has spend a great deal of money updating their facility in attempts to comply with FDA standards. It has been and remains their intention to comply with the FDA, so long as their requests aren’t exceedingly unreasonable.

    Also, please remember that there is no case on record of anyone, anywhere getting sick in any way from EFC cheese. Some people like to get all wrapped around the axle about the potential sickness in the raw cheese industry, but don’t seem to be as worried about the actual sickness (and death) in other segments of the food industry (bagged salads, eggs, beef, etc).

    I, personally, am not into pointing fingers at the big, bad federal government, but I am quite interested in providing more context in which the consumers can make better judgments.

    John Jackson | November 22, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
    As a consumer, I depend on the food safety regulation regime. In recent years, we’ve seen a variety of contamination issues, including BST in milk, slack inspection at meatcutting facilities, e coli in vegetables, and people dying from unpasteurized Odwalla juice.

    I’m not a biologist or a farmer. All I do is eat the stuff. I also pay for it, by the way. Never forget that, because in the end, the farmer has to sell the product or he is out of business.

    Simply telling people not to get wrapped around the axle isn’t going to cut it. Same goes for saying that there haven’t been any reported illnesses. All it’s going to take is one highly publicized death, and then the whole industry you are supporting may well be shut down.

    I realize I’m being a pain in the butt here, but you should actually think of me as a friend. I genuinely want small, artisanal cheese makers to survive and prosper. But I think they’re going to need to get their act together, and quickly.

    There is another factor to think about. These farms producing the artisanal products are small businesses, and small businesses are always mixed bags. You tend to see the extremes, both positively and negatively. It’s a big mistake to imagine that, because a business is small, its owners sit at the right hand of God. All too often, the exact opposite is the case.

    John Jackson | November 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    No health problems from raw milk cheese, eh? Do a Google search. There plenty of problems. Costco just recalled raw milk cheese with salmonella, and France has had a number of nationwide disease outbreaks traced to raw milk cheese. Interesting that no one wants to talk about this stuff.

    Tim Prussic | November 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    John, who ever said there are no health problems with raw milk cheese? Seriously. I’m not here pretending that the EFC doesn’t have problems to fix or that the raw-milk cheese industry doesn’t have both real and perceived problems. The wrapped-around-the-axle comment wasn’t really aimed at you – I think that you seem to have a fairly even-keeled view of this. I have in mind people like Big (see his comment on “A Site to Help”). Food safety (and unfortunately even the perception of it) is a real issue with real consequences. The EFC takes food safety very seriously and have spent a great deal of time, money and effort to make necessary changes (and are still doing so).

    John, what do you see as the first steps in small artisanal cheese makers getting their act together? What do you think is lacking and what needs to be done?

    John Jackson | November 22, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
    Okay, Tim, I accept your rebuttal, and once again I appreciate it.

    At the risk of being nothing but a critic, a position I really don’t like, I have to say that because I’m not an expert I can’t be comprehensive. So, consider the following to be provisional, off the top of my head thoughts for the industry to consider.

    1. Back off of the anti-regulation theme and make it clear that food safety is a vital priority. Forthrightly acknowledge risks and real problems within the artisanal cheese sector.

    2. Seek to define industry standards and practices for all producers to follow, and remedies when contaminants are discovered.

    3. Educate the public on the presence of bacteria in food.

    From what I’ve been able to read, the FDA didn’t come down hard on EFC until the second offense. I’m having a tough time seeing how they acted unreasonably. True, it has been a hardship for the business, but that strikes me as EFC’s problem and not the FDA’s.

    The more I look into this, the more apprehensive I am becoming about consuming artisanal cheese. That worries me quite a bit. The industry should act BEFORE something really bad happens, with “really bad” being defined as the deaths of consumers. If that winds up happening because the industry was too defensive, it’s going to be “game over” for a promising industry. I’d really hate to see it happen.

    Tim Prussic | November 22, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    Very good, John. I quite agree with you and appreciate your insights. I have tried to be very clear about the EFC’s desire to be completely up to standards. That’s something they’ve always sought to do. Nothing has changed on that score. The EFC wants to work with the FDA to get back in business.

    The unreasonable part of the FDA’s treatment was the request to recall ALL their cheese, when there was no evidence that had ever spread into anything other than one or two soft cheeses. That request was one that, were it honored, would have been the end of EFC. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to you? One of my irons in the fire, therefore, is to highlight this heavy-handedness. Such “regulation” threatens more than just artisan cheese. So, it’s not anti-regulation that I’m after, but sensible regulation.

    Tim Prussic | November 23, 2010 at 2:26 am |
    John, you said, ‘The position of EFC and its supporters seems to be, essentially, “Let’s wait until someone dies before we take any of this really seriously.” I suppose I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but not too much. How many infections have there been that went unreported, i.e., so-called “mild cases” of this and that?’

    This is wildly unfair. The Estrellas have been diligent from day one (before FDA field agents began swabbing their drains) to produce and sell GOOD, HEALTHY cheese. They’ve spent thousands and thousands of their own dollars to fix the problems found by the FDA. You seem to be focusing your ire for the industry as a whole on the Estrellas, who, as it turns out, have fantastic karma (jk).

    Kimberly Hartke | November 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    Kenneth, John, here is the background on this case, put together by the attorneys of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, who are working with the family. This may help to put everything in perspective:


    We need to have compassion on this family, they have made no one ill, and they have worked very cooperatively with the regulatory agencies. But they shouldn’t be expected to close their doors because of ‘suspicions’. Only, proof of harm should be the reason to ruin an enterprise, and even then I believe in redemption.

    In this horrible economy, why is our government bent on putting people out of work. I really believe this is a case of bureaucratic bias and a too stringent (unreasonable) standard being applied.

    Plus, the FDA has already stated that U.S. citizens don’t have a right to healthy food of our choice, and that no one, for any reason should consume raw dairy foods! Why do they have even an ounce of credibility on this matter? Maybe only because you are unaware of their explicit statements. See the ftcldf.org for more details.

    Check the press release:


    Kimberly Hartke | November 24, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    John, this is a fund raising page. Please, if you choose to continue finding fault with the Estrella family, take it elsewhere. There are plenty of media articles where you can debate the issue in the comments.

    Since you persist in your negative vein, I am going to ask you to leave this blog, as we are trying to come to the aid of this family and you are actively discouraging people from supporting them in their defense of their enterprise.

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop | November 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    I’m happy to donate and spread the word to help this family and other farms like them who are providing Real Food to nourish us!

    Visit Save Farm Freedom Friday to see all those who are standing together!



    Tim Prussic | November 26, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
    Thanks for the comments, Shane. The facts of the matter bear out that the FDA was way heavy-handed. It’s that simple. In speaking with the Estrellas a couple days ago, I was informed of a number of other safety precautions (costing scores of thousands of dollars) that they took unasked by anyone, including the FDA.

    As to Kimberly’s comment above, she’s not the admn, I am. I enjoy an open exchange of ideas. I think openness is good, and I know that our side (supporting the EFC) can learn a great deal by listening. On the other hand, this site is for the support of the EFC. Let’s try to keep comments supportive. Criticism is fine, but constructive criticism is best.

    Chris Lacy | November 29, 2010 at 1:42 am |
    It seems pretty obvious to me that Jack’s “axe to grind” is simply the matter of food safety. Through polite and informative conversation, Tim, you have both managed to stay reasonable. I see nothing trollish in Jack’s language. At most, perhaps there’s a bit of Devil’s Advocacy. While I disagree, I do understand his point. Food safety is not something to be treated lightly. In this case it seems likely to me that the FDA’s actions are overzealous; however failure to correct a potentially harmful infection speaks of other potentially harmful failures. As a farmer and food producer, I can imagine what it would have felt like to the Estrellas if someone had died from eating their product. Ultimately, that’s the whole point. I hope they are able to survive this draconian assault but I can see both sides.

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