A lawsuit will be filed on behalf of a 5-year-old Washington state child who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, after drinking raw milk allegedly contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

The claim will be filed in Thurston County by the Seattle food safety law firm Marler Clark (sponsor of Food Safety News) against Cozy Valley, a dairy in Tenino, WA.

Cozy Valley Creamery recalled its unpasteurized milk products on Nov. 23 this year after three children who drank milk from the dairy were infected by the identical strain of E. coli O157:H7. An investigation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture revealed E. coli O157:H7 contamination in the milking parlor and processing areas that was genetically indistinguishable from the outbreak strain.

Cozy Valley Creamery sold raw whole and skim milk and cream at its farm store and through at least seven retail outlets in Pierce, Thurston and King counties, including markets in Tacoma and Federal Way, two Olympia Food Co-Op locations, Olympia Local Foods in Tumwater, Mt. Community Co-op in Eatonville, and at Yelm Cooperative.

After drinking raw milk from the Cozy Valley Creamery for months, the little girl represented by Marler Clark became sick on Nov. 5 with severe abdominal cramps, nausea and  diarrhea. When the child’s symptoms worsened and the diarrhea became bloody, her parents took her to a pediatrician, who advised emergency treatment. A stool specimen collected during that visit was later confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7.

The girl was treated at the hospital overnight, receiving intravenous fluids for hydration, and although she initially seemed to improve after discharge, her condition deteriorated and she was rushed again to a Tacoma hospital, where lab results showed she had developed HUS.

The child was immediately transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she remained for a week, dangerously anemic and requiring blood transfusion. She remains anemic and in need of follow-up medical care.

The lawsuit notes that in addition to the Cozy Valley E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, contaminated raw milk caused at least 39 documented E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter outbreaks in the United States from 2000 to 2007.

Since 2007, the lawsuit adds, there have been several outbreaks involving raw milk. Among them: 

— In 2008, Connecticut public health officials identified 14 cases of E. coli

O157  linked to contaminated raw milk produced by the Town Farm Dairy in Simsbury.

— In 2008, at least 4 people were infected by E. coli O157:H7 in an outbreak linked to raw goat’s milk produced by Autumn Olive Farms and sold at the Herb Depot in Missouri.

— In May and June 2008, approximately 16 people were sickened by Campylobacter Jejuni in an outbreak attributed to raw cow’s milk in and around Del Norte, CA and linked to raw milk from Alexandre Ecodairy.

— In 2009, at least 81 Colorado residents were sickened by Campylobacter Jejuni in an outbreak linked to raw milk from the Kinikin Dairy in Montrose County.

— In May and June 2010, raw milk and related products produced by dairyman Mike Hartmann at Hartmann Dairy were the source of at least 8 confirmed E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in Minnesota.

— In April 2010, two separate outbreaks of Salmonella and Campylobacter were linked to the consumption of raw milk in Utah. The Salmonella outbreak, which sickened at least 6 people, was caused by raw milk produced and sold by a dairy in central Utah. The Campylobacter outbreak, which sickened at least 9 people, was caused by raw milk from northern Utah dairy. 

— In November 2011, raw milk products from Organic Pastures dairy in Fresno, CA were placed under a quarantine order by the California State Veterinarian after five children were infected, from August through October, with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7. Three of the five children were hospitalized with HUS. The state Department of Health has said the epidemiologic finding that all of the children drank Organic Pastures raw milk, the only common exposure among them, established the dairy as the likely source of the illnesses.

  • Well, so much for the raw milk people accepting the consequences of their decisions.

  • Allin58

    Should the State go after the parents for child abuse? I would say exposing a child to an unnecessary risk is child abuse.

  • going to be very tough to prove in a real court of law, that it was the milk which made the subject sick, after she’d been drinking it for months, with no ill affect
    obviously, this lawsuit is being used as a tactic a much larger, political agenda

  • Nevra

    I don’t agree with Allin’s comment. Risks are everywhere and I still believe that the risks incurred by consuming raw milk that comes from pasture-raised cows and milked using proper sanitary precautions is far less risky than, say, feeding a baby or child formula, deli meats or hot dogs (much bigger chance of listeria here), giving your child immunizations, or even putting your child in a car.
    US government estimates there are ~12-15M consumers or raw milk in the US, so if, say, 100 people per year are infected with something (keep in mind deaths are far more rare), that means your odds of catching something are only 1 in 120,000, so HIGHLY unlikely.
    I also think that the problems associated with pasteurized, homogenized grocery-store milk, which comes from sick cows that are fed a totally unnatural diet of genetically modified corn and soy, has all sorts of unintended negative consequences that need to be weighed (asthma, allergies, lactose intolerance, digestive issues, etc).
    I worry that by overreacting to rare unfortunate events like this one could result in loss of more and more of the freedoms that our country was founded upon.

  • Margaret

    I found it interesting that the cases in California and the cased in Washington were in the same time frame. Is there another cause out there that created the illness that was common to all 8 Children in the two states. I feel that hear raw milk and immediately are sure that it is the cause. But my husband was raised on raw milk and raised his children on raw milk from thier own cow with no bad effects. If the milk was infected than why didn’t others have at least some symptoms. There were other people sick at the time and they had not consummed raw milk while people I know were drinking raw milk from this dairy were not sick, even ones who were old or at high risk. The co-op also carried another brand of raw milk aroung the time that the illness broke out. I am not entirely convinced that it was the raw milk.

  • Gordon Watson, parents who bought raw milk are suing the raw milk dairy. What possible hidden agenda is there?
    As for proving it was the milk, the article stated that E.coli was found at the dairy and it’s a genetic match up for the E.coli that sickened the child. That’s what’s known as a smoking gun in food safety.
    Nevra, you’re making several unwarranted assumptions, including your assumption that pasteurized milk comes from diseased cows in confined animal operations. But I agree with you, there is no case of child abuse with the parents’ decision to give their kids raw milk.

  • David

    There is no way you can convince me that raw milk does not have fecal matter in it. This is the reason that we heat it. I don’t want poo in my milk. Feel free to drink milk with poo in it if you feel that it is beneficial.

  • Alllin58

    Shelley, I agree with your comments. My reason for bringing up the possibility of child abuse was to be provocative in light of this family suing the dairy with scant evidence that they did anything particularly wrong. The cause should be investigated for sure and if it is found that the dairy did something wrong then sueing them is certainly an option. Personally I’m sticking with pasteurization.