Officials with the Utah Department of Health are investigating nine cases of Salmonella infection in people who reported drinking raw milk from a family-run dairy in Midland, UT.
Those sickened were from at least three counties along the Wasatch Front, a department spokeswoman said. Two of the nine were hospitalized but have recovered. Illness onset dates were March 20 to Aug. 14, and those who became ill range in age from 15 to 78 years.
A raw milk sample collected at Heber Valley Milk by a Utah Department of Agriculture and Food inspector tested positive for Salmonella Saintpaul on Aug. 23, the health department stated. However, the most recent tests showed no signs of Salmonella and the dairy has been allowed to resume sales.
Grant Kohler, owner of Heber Valley Milk, said he is working with state officials to try to figure out what happened.
“We don’t know what the cause was and we’re not 100 percent sure that it’s our place,” he said. “We will do whatever we need to do to make sure we’re selling a safe product.”
In a statement posted Tuesday on Facebook, the dairy noted that six tests conducted in the past two weeks “have all tested negative for any type of Salmonella.”
“In the rare occurrence that there is a chance Heber Valley Milk is connected to any health concerns (rumored or documented), all raw milk sales are halted, until thorough testing is conducted by our farmers and the State of Utah. Food safety is the company’s top priority, and the family is doing all they can to provide safe and quality milk to their customers,” the statement read.
Infection with Salmonella bacteria can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and headache. Symptoms usually appear from 12 hours to one week after exposure and the illness can last for up to a week or more.
Most people recover without treatment. However, the infection can be serious, especially for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have weakened or compromised immune systems.
“In some cases Salmonella bacteria can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites. These infections are very serious and should be treated with appropriate antibiotics,” said Dr. Allyn Nakashima, Utah state epidemiologist. “If you develop severe vomiting or diarrhea after drinking raw milk, you should consult your health care provider.”
Raw milk comes from cows, goats or sheep and has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can contain dangerous bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli, which can all cause foodborne illnesses.
Raw milk contaminated with disease-causing bacteria does not smell or look any different from uncontaminated raw milk, and there is no easy way for the consumer to know whether raw milk is contaminated.
According to the Utah health department, since 2009 there have been 30 documented outbreaks associated with raw milk sold at dairies statewide, with more than 400 people becoming ill.
Utah allows on-farm sales of raw milk as long as the milk producer owns the store. Monthly testing for bacteria and pathogens is required, and animals must be tested before production and every six months thereafter. The bottles must be labeled as raw milk and must carry a warning label.
Public health officials warn that drinking raw milk may be dangerous, regardless where it is obtained. Raw milk should not be consumed by young children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with weakened or compromised immune systems, or anyone who does not want to become ill.
Both the health department and the dairy emphasized that those who choose to drink raw milk should follow these steps to reduce the risk of illness:
- Only buy raw milk from stores or dairies permitted by law to sell it. However, a government permit does not guarantee that raw milk will be free from disease-causing bacteria.
- Keep raw milk and raw milk products refrigerated at or below 40 degrees F.
- Transport milk from the store to your home in a cooler with ice packs.
- Do not let raw milk sit out at room temperature.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)