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Not a good spring for raw milk

Not a good spring for raw milk
Spring hasn't been kind to raw milk producers. New York, Pennsylvania and West Coast ag departments grapple with bacterial contamination and food safety risks.

While raw milk producers lobby legislatures to allow raw milk sales in West Virginia and other states, the niche market industry's reputation is being punched in the eye in states allowing sales. The last 30 days have been particularly bad in California, New York and Pennsylvania. And spring has only begun.

In the latest case, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture officials warned consumers on Monday to discard raw-milk cheese purchased from Joe Fisher of Paradise, Pa. And ag officials ordered Fisher to stop sale of all raw-milk cheese and milk.

TROUBLE FOR RAW MILK: A flurry of raw milk positive bacterial tests bacterial plus illegal sales hurts the niche market's reputation.

The Lancaster County, Pa., dairy had no permit to manufacture or distribute dairy products. In violation of milk safety regulations, the facilities had not been routinely inspected by state milk sanitarians or submitted product for biological testing.

Just three days earlier, Pennsylvania's Ag Department had issued another warning of Salmonella contamination in raw, unpasteurized milk sold by Breezy Meadows, a Bird-In-Hand, Pa., dairy. Routine sampling of the dairy's milk revealed the bacterial contamination.

Breezy Meadows was legally permitted to sell the milk directly to consumers at an on-farm retail store. The dairy was ordered to cease raw milk sales until follow-up testing shows the product is safe. No food-borne illnesses were reported.

Pennsylvania law allows farms to sell raw milk, but requires the farms to be permitted and inspected by the Department of Agriculture to reduce health risks associated with unpasteurized products. Unpasteurized milk can contain dangerous bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. Other products that contain raw milk, such as cream or queso fresco, can also cause foodborne illness.

In early February, ag department milk tests of raw milk from Apple Valley Creamery in East Berlin, Pa., discovered Campylobacter contamination. That dairy was prohibited from selling raw milk until Health Department officials cleared the dairy in mid-February.

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In New York State
Also in early April, New York State's Department of Agriculture and  Markets issued a public warning about Listeria contamination found in unpasteurized raw milk from the Richard Dirie Farm at Livingston Manor, N.Y. Further testing last week confirmed the pathogen was still present.

Raw milk sales of the milk were suspended. The producer was prohibited from selling raw milk until subsequent sampling indicates that the product is free of harmful bacteria. No illnesses associated with raw milk from the farm were reported, according to ag department officials.

Way out West
Also last week, Spanish Sonrise Dairy, of Yacolt, Wash., recalled raw milk and cream products after routine Ag Department testing revealed Listeria contamination in the dairy's goat milk raw cream. The dairy also recalled its raw cow's milk even though no milk tested positive for the bacteria.

It was the small farm's first listeria-positive test. No illnesses related to the cream had been reported. Even so, news sources report that the family decided to close their dairy. They had planned to cease operations in a few years; the listeria contamination sped up that decision.

And in mid-March, raw milk and raw cream produced by Claravale Farm of Paicines, Calif., was recalled and subject to a statewide recall by California's State Veterinarian. The quarantine order came following confirmed detection of Campylobacter in samples collected and tested by the California Department of Public Health. The samples were collected as part of an investigation of illnesses that may have been associated with Claravale Farm raw milk.

The CDC's 'take'
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed U.S. outbreaks associated with raw milk. From 2007 to 2012, 81 outbreaks were reported to CDC in 26 states.

Between 2004 and 2011, the states legalizing the sale of raw milk increased from 22 to 30. States where the sale of raw milk was legal in some form reported 81% of raw milk associated outbreaks

Since not all people who get a foodborne illness seek healthcare, get their illness diagnosed, or get reported to public health officials, the actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is much higher. And according to the CDC, young people under age 20 are more likely than adults to get seriously ill, that has the CDC concerned that the reported outbreaks represent only the tip of the iceberg.

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