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Raw Milk Dairy Responsible for E. Coli Outbreak

A state court has ruled that raw milk from the Hartmann Dairy Farm was responsible for an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Minnesota last spring that sickened at least eight people, including a 2-year-old child.

In a ruling issued Dec. 20, Sibley County Judge Rex D. Stacey said Minnesota public health officials were justified in seizing the farm’s raw milk products.  The court said the products must be destroyed and ordered owner Michael Hartmann to pay the disposal costs.

Legal experts see the 23-page decision as a thorough rebuke of the manner in which the Hartmann Dairy Farm was operated.  It also refuted, point-by-point, arguments put forth on behalf of the farm, which the court found untenable and unsupported.

The milk sold by the farm was “produce, prepared, packed and held in insanitary conditions,” the court determined.

The action is the latest in a long-running battle between brothers Michael and Roger Hartmann and Minnesota public health and agriculture regulators, who had linked the Hartmann farm in Gibbon to a cluster of people infected with E. coli.

State officials impounded its products and told the Hartmanns to stop selling unpasteurized milk until they corrected sanitary problems at their dairy, but Michael Hartmann has continued to sell milk in defiance of the order.  He has contended his milk did not cause anyone to become sick.

Judge Stacey disagreed, saying that evidence presented during 10 days of testimony showed all eight people were infected by the same, rare strain of toxin-producing E. coli  and that many more had likely been rendered ill by Hartmann milk.  Four of the eight the confirmed cases required hospitalization and the two-year-old sickened in the outbreak developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially lethal condition that can lead to kidney failure.

In his ruling, the judge noted that some E. coli O157:H7 is typically present in the guts and manure of cows on about 30-40 percent of dairy farms, but only in about 4 percent of animals tested at any given time.

He said it was therefore significant that the Minnesota Department of Health found E. coli O157:H7 in 28 of 80 animal and environmental samples from the Hartmann farm.  Twenty-six of those E. coli isolates matched the unique strain of E. coli that made the eight people sick.

In May and June, after Minnesota health investigators had identified the Hartmann dairy as the likely source of the E. coli outbreak, inspectors from the state agriculture department found numerous sanitation problems at the farm, including “the extreme buildup of manure on virtually every surface in the dairy barn,” according to evidence presented to the court.

They said they found the milk house ceiling to be water damaged and crumbling, thick layers of cobwebs and dust, dead flies and live flies in abundance, dead animals, rodent droppings, chickens in the milking parlor, rusty and corroded equipment, and milking equipment stored in a sink.  They said there was buildup inside and out of the milking equipment, pipeline system, receiving jar, bulk tank and cleaning sinks.  The Hartmanns have been operating without a Grade A dairy license, which was revoked by the state in 2001.

The court also found that the Hartmanns were selling uninspected meat.  Michael Hartmann had testified that the embargoed meat was custom-processed from by a firm that the judge noted was recently closed “due to gross insanitary conditions including repeated fecal contamination of carcasses.”

Minnesota law permits the sale of unpasteurized milk, but it must be sold on the farm where it is produced.  The Hartmanns testified that they deliver the majority of their dairy products to customers at various drop-off locations around Minnesota and that only a small amount of product is purchased by customers at their farm.

Although the Hartmanns had told the court they wanted to keep the embargoed dairy products for “personal use,” the court said “a claim that a family of four will personally consume 900 packages, forty-odd tubs and boxes of cheese and 76 cases of butter is not credible.”

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    **”Although the Hartmanns had told the court they wanted to keep the embargoed dairy products for ‘personal use,’ the court said ‘a claim that a family of four will personally consume 900 packages, forty-odd tubs and boxes of cheese and 76 cases of butter is not credible.’ “**
    This screwball Hartmann and his whacky ‘raw’ milk supporters are possibly the most absurd people in Minnesota…in the wonderland of Jesse Ventura et al. Simply unbelievable.
    Too bad they can’t lock the dirty buggerer up and throw away the key. He’s obviously a menace to society.

  • Maxine Hardin

    Doc Mudd why are you trying to infringe on the rights of the people that choose to purchase Hartmann’s products. Don’t be so hypocritical. I’m sure you have smoke, drank or done something not socially acceptable or legal in your lifetime but guess what? That’s no ones business but your own. Stay out of people’s business. I bet you’re a repube.

  • Rachel L

    Wow Doc. Anyone make you consume the milk?? It’s a decision we make to consume raw milk. I have educated myself on the pros and cons of it and make my choices accordingly. I can get sick from milk bought from a store! I can get sick eating lettuce. I think the Gov’t should stay out of the business and those that want to drink the milk, more power to them. I wish the Hartmann’s the best as they deal with this.

  • Leon Scheible

    In the first place I would like to preempt any ad hominem attacks from Ms. Hardin and assure her that I am not a “repube” or a “demoe”. Also I do not concur with Mr. Mudd that the Hartmann brothers are “dirty buggerers’ or that for the offenses of which they are accused they should be locked up and the key thrown away.
    I am a firm believer in evolution and believe that anyone who wants to consume raw milk because they believe that it is better than pasteurized milk (or that participate an any other practice detrimental to their survival — see Ms. Hardins examples) should be free to improve the human gene pool by removing themselves from it.
    The real issue, which Ms. Hardin does not mention, is that the Hartmanns were producing contaminated milk in unsanitary conditions which caused a number of people to be sickened, and that they sold that milk in locations other than their farm. Both of these actions are against the laws and regulations of the state of Minnesota. It is these actions not the sale of raw milk that the Hartmanns are being prosecuted (Ms. Hardin may say persecuted) for. Even if one believes that raw milk is beneficial I find it hard to understand why one would not want to see the Hartmanns hung out to dry for what they did, which was sell their customers a contaminated product.
    If someone wants to consume raw milk, Ms. Hardin is correct that it is their right as adults to do so. However I am troubled that one of the people made seriously ill was an infant. Perhaps the Minnesota Department Of Social Services should check out whether the beliefs and actions of this child’s parents are not a danger to the child.
    The real issue which Ms. Hardin does not mention is that the Hartmanns were producing contaminated milk in unsanitary conditions which caused a number of people to be sickened, and selling that milk in locations other than their farm. Both of these actions are against the laws and regulations of the state of Minnesota. It is these actions not the sale of raw milk that the Hartmans are being prosicuted (Ms. Hardin may say persecuted) for. Even if one believes that raw milk if benificial I find it hard to understand why one would not want to see the Hartmans hung out to dry for what they did.
    If someone wants to consume raw milk, Ms. Hartman is correct that is is their right. However I am troubled that one of the people made seriously ill was an infant. Perhaps the Minnesota Department Of Social Services should check out whether the beliefs and actions of this child’s parents are not a danger to it.

  • zowie

    As Leon says the real issue “is that the Hartmanns were producing contaminated milk in unsanitary conditions which caused a number of people to be sickened.”
    This is certainly true and certainly not party only to the production of RAW milk. Contamination of milk in unsanitary conditions can (and does) occur in conventional dairies, the consequences are usually nullified by the process of pasteurization. Raw milk dairies must therefore be held to higher standards of sanitation as they do not have the fail safe of the pasteurization process.
    The Hartmanns and their practices were wrong but the product isn’t. It is possible to produce safe and sanitary raw milk if proper production practices are used.
    I think that it is extremely important to make this product/practice distinction in this debate.
    I would also like to question the validity of a law that makes off-farm sales of raw milk illegal; what is the point? Is it based in regard for consumer safety? Shouldn’t the laws and regulations be focused on the production practices that affect the safety of the milk, not just how and where it is marketed?