Fourth graders at a Raymond, Wisconsin elementary school got a painful lesson earlier this month. They drank unpasteurized milk at a North Cape Elementary School event on Friday, June 3 and by Monday 16 individuals — students and some adults — were suffering from diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting from Campylobacter infections. 

The raw milk was one parent’s contribution to the school event.

milkracine-iphone.jpgThe parent, whose name was not disclosed, runs a licensed farm — also not identified — that is in good standing with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Donating raw milk is not illegal, and the parent will not face sanctions nor will the dairy suffer a blemish on its record.

Wisconsin health authorities, however, confirmed that the milk was the source of the outbreak.

In a joint statement issued late Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Western Racine County Health Department (WRCHD) said : “Laboratory test results show that the Campylobactor jejuni bacteria that caused diarrheal illness among 16 individuals who drank unpasteurized (raw) milk at a school event early this month in Raymond was the same bacteria strain found in unpasteurized milk produced at a local farm.”

The WRCHD said stool samples submitted by ill students and adults were sent to the State Laboratory of Hygiene, where they tested positive for the bacteria.  Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) food inspectors said milk samples collected from the bulk tank at the farm also tested positive for Campylobacter jejuni. 

Further testing by the State Hygiene lab showed the bacteria from the stool samples and the milk samples were a genetic match. Additionally, interviews with event attendees revealed that consuming the unpasteurized milk was statistically associated with illness. 

Health officials said this combination of laboratory and epidemiologic evidence indicates that the illnesses were caused by the unpasteurized milk consumed at the school event.

Campylobacter jejuni bacteria can cause diarrhea, which can be bloody, abdominal cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting. Rarely, an infection may lead to paralysis after initial symptoms have disappeared. Campylobacter can be transmitted by consuming food contaminated directly or indirectly by animal feces or handled by someone with the infection who has not adequately washed hands after using the bathroom.