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Officials have discovered trace levels of radioactive Iodine-131 in milk samples from Washington state and California, but stress that amounts are still 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the Food and Drug Administration. That should easy worry for consumers concerned that radiation from the damaged Fukushima plant in Japan will affect milk produced in the U.S.
"We don't make light of radiation. People want more information, but it's important to put things in context," Al Lundeen, spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) told Slashfood. "We have had a positive sampling of Iodine-131, but it was minuscule. It's a trace amount compared to other things like watching TV or flying on a plane, where people are also exposed to radiation."
According to the Associated Press, the FDA and EPA announced they had found radiation in milk from Spokane, Wash. on Friday, while the CDPH announced they found similar results from milk obtained at a dairy in San Luis Obispo County on Monday.
"We are going to continue to monitor the situation," said Lundeen. "We test milk because that's the food where radiation can be detected most quickly, but we're testing air samples as well. What we know now is the amount of radiation detected should not force people to hesitate to drink milk or anything else."
The CDPH has posted a FAQ on their website for consumers who would like more information.
California milk producers Straus Family Creamery and Clover Stornetta Farms also posted letters to customers on their websites confirming their milk was safe for consumption.
"We've gotten some calls," said Rich Martin, spokesperson for Straus Family Creamery. "People just want to talk to someone from the company and hear firsthand the product is safe."
Veterinary toxicologist Michael Payne, DVM, PhD, of the University of California, Davis and the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security told Slashfood that the most important thing for consumers to know is the level of background radioactivity found in both samples were infinitesimally small and inconsequential to human health.
"The banana I had for breakfast this morning had 3,500 times more naturally occurring radiation than the extra radiation found in these milk samples," said Payne. "Could there be a concern later? The modeling the EPA and FDA have done show that even if a catastrophic failure occurred in the reactor vessel at the Fukushima plant, we have a 6,000 mile difference between Japan and the West Coast. That's more than adequate to dilute the radiation."