June 20, 2018

Raw Milk Outbreak, Raw Cheese Recall

Raw dairy products were the source of one recall and one outbreak this week.  French cheese made with raw milk was recalled for possible Listeria contamination in 19 states and Washington DC. Consumers who have this cheese should not eat it. Although no illnesses have been reported in association with the recall, Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections. Young children, frail or elderly people, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems are at particular risk. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

Listeria IllustrationIn Pennsylvania, raw milk produced by The Family Cow farm has, for the third time in less than two years, been the source of a Campylobacter outbreak. At least two illnesses were reported. Farm owner Edwin Shank’s response to these outbreaks has followed this arc. Outbreak 1: denial, admission of responsibility, request for forgiveness, promise to improve, improvements. Outbreak 2: puzzlement, mention of improvements, suggestion that authorities were mistaken. Outbreak 3: “I guess we’ll just have to get used to this,” mention of improvements, suggestion that authorities were mistaken, request for customers to write to health authorities in a truthful, respectful manner.

The gist of Shank’s response to this week’s outbreak is that the farm is being unfairly targeted, Shank told his customers, that in addition to his own on-site testing, he had a third party lab test the milk and it came back negative.  ”The test result from our third-party lab came back this morning just ahead of PDA’s and it is negative for campylobacter. Same milk, same date… But our third-party pathogen-free test does not really matter to the state. They still go by theirs as the official. ”

Not mentioned in the response is that a negative test result doesn’t disprove the state’s positive test. For more information on why, read this Q&A with top Minnesota health officials. It’s about E.coli in raw milk, but the same concept applies, which is basically that it only takes a small amount of bacteria to contaminate milk and they aren’t mixed in equal parts throughout it.

Also not mentioned in the farm’s response are the two people who drank the milk and became sick. Campylobacter is a bacteria that is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, which means those who develop infections have ingested a food or beverage that contains microscopic amounts of fecal matter. It causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever for about a week. If the infection spreads to the bloodstream, it can be  life-threatening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Campylobacter infections can trigger serious health conditions including  Guillain-Barre Syndrome which causes paralysis and reactive arthritis which causes painful swelling of the joints.

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