A boy and a girl, both under 10 years of age, and a man in his 30s — all in Washington state but in three different counties — were infected with E. coli linked to raw milk from the Dungeness Valley Creamery near Sequim, Wash.

Washington State Health Department spokesman Donn Moyer said one of the infected people was briefly hospitalized but that there were no serious complications associated with the outbreak.

milking-cow1.jpgThe first illness was reported in September; the other two were reported in November.

Jason Kelly, spokesman for the Washington State Agriculture Department, said no E. coli has been found in samples from the dairy’s current batch of milk. However, during an inspection of the dairy, investigators found the same bacteria strain that caused one of the illnesses in one of the dozen or so samples taken at the farm. The samples were taken in various locations including the milking parlor, bottling rooms, pastures, and loafing sheds.

A licensed Grade A dairy that undergoes routine animal-health and food-safety inspections as well as milk testing, the Dungeness Valley Creamery became a certified raw-milk dairy in 2006. It distributes its milk to about 20 retail stores and various drop-off points on the west side of the state.

Jeff Brown, one of the dairy’s owners, said no E. coli has ever been found in the dairy’s milk.

Moyer of the state’s Health Department said that in two of the cases, the milk was purchased from Whole Foods. In the other case, it was obtained from one of the dairy’s drop-off points.

The dairy distributes its milk to about 20 retail stores and various drop-off points on the west side of the state.

As of the evening of Dec. 2, Whole Foods had not yet released information about what actions the chain has taken in response to the illnesses.

Raw Milk Regulation Sidebar.pngAccording to the state’s Agriculture Department, the dairy is in compliance with state regulations and meeting all of its obligations under the law.

For that reason, said Kelly, it can continue operating. And because inspectors haven’t found any E. coli in the dairy’s milk, there’s no reason to suggest a recall should be put into place.But Kelly said that in response to the illnesses, the department has accelerated milk testing at the dairy from once a month to once a week.

The department has also issued an advisory to remind raw milk consumers that there are inherent risks associated with drinking unpasteurized milk.

“Pasteurization is the only way to make sure milk doesn’t contain harmful bacteria,” Kelly said.

Unlike raw milk, pasteurized milk has been heated to temperatures that kill pathogens that can cause illness or even death.

While raw-milk advocates praise the health benefits of drinking unpasteurized milk, many health officials warn that raw milk can harbor potentially dangerous pathogens that can cause severe illness and trigger life-threatening complications.

In its advisory, the department said that symptoms of the potential deadly E. coli O157 generally appear 3 to 4 days after exposure but can take as long as 9 days to appear.

The department urges anyone who has consumed raw milk and who is experiencing symptoms, which can include severe diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloody stools, to contact a health-care provider.

In Washington state, where there are 24 certified raw-milk dairies, retail raw milk is allowed to be sold. However, the milk containers must have warning labels, and warnings must also be posted at the point of sale.

According to a recent press advisory put out by food-safety attorney Bill Marler of Seattle-based Marler Clark, there are many strains of Escherichia coli, but illnesses are caused by the toxin-producing strains. The most common of these is E. coli O157:H7. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, often bloody. Severe complications are possible, including hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure and other cascading issues.

Marler advises anyone experiencing these symptoms to visit a healthcare provider and request a stool culture. Since there is a 1-10 day incubation period for E. coli, he also advises anyone who has consumed raw milk from Dungeness Valley Creamery in the last 10 days to also consider getting tested, even if symptoms are not present.

Marler said that raw milk has been the vehicle for serious E. coli illnesses around the country.

“At Marler Clark, we’re working with families in California, Missouri, Connecticut, Michigan and even here in Washington State who are struggling with severe complications from raw milk E. coli infections,” said Marler in his press advisory.

In 2005 and 2006, E. coli outbreaks were linked to two dairies in Washington state.

Other outbreaks associated with raw milk have been caused by potentially serious or life-threatening bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria.

On the net:

Information about E. coli symptoms