Alleged illegal sale of raw milk
SACRAMENTO–A CDFA investigation into illegal cheese and raw milk sales has led to felony charges against James Alexander Areias, a licensed dairyman from Madera. The District Attorney in Madera County is prosecuting Areias for allegedly selling raw milk to an unlicensed source, which brings a maximum sentence of one-year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Areias was arraigned on August 16, 2002 and pleaded not guilty to the felony charge. A preliminary hearing was set for August 30, 2002.
Information from an unlicensed cheese maker convicted earlier this year led CDFA investigators to Areias’ dairy.
Illegally produced soft cheeses, sometimes called “bathtub cheese,” are often made under unsanitary conditions that can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, which can cause severe illness and even death. Infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to the bacteria. The illegally produced cheese is frequently made in bathtubs, as well as homemade wooden vats and rusted cheese molds that are commonly stored in barns or garages lacking adequate pest control and sanitation. The use of unpasteurized milk compounds the risk.
“Illegally produced soft cheeses pose a serious public health risk,” said CDFA Secretary William (Bill) J. Lyons, Jr., “To protect the public and the industry, dairymen have a responsibility to keep raw milk out of the hands of unlicensed manufacturers.”
The investigation was a collaborative effort among the Madera County Sheriff’s Agricultural Task Force and CDFA investigators.
As the demand for soft cheeses expands, CDFA reminds consumers that wholesome cheeses produced by licensed manufacturers are available in retail stores and authenticated by specific labeling requirements. Log onto www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss for specific label requirements and consumer education information.
Note-B-roll depicting illegal cheese operations with a public service announcement featuring actor Edward J. Olmos about the health risks of consuming illegally manufactured cheese (in Spanish) is available from CDFA at (916) 654-0462. Consumer education brochures are also available.
California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Public Affairs
1220 N St., Ste. 214, Sacramento, CA 95814