State officials suspended the license of Pride & Joy Dairy today and again warned the public to not drink any of the dairy’s organic, unpasteurized, raw milk because lab tests have confirmed it is contaminated with a rare strain of Salmonella that hospitalized two people.
Until further notice, the dairy “may not legally bottle and sell raw milk on the retail market,” according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which suspended the Pride & Joy license late this afternoon.
“Health officials are urging consumers not to drink Pride & Joy Dairy organic raw milk in any container size or sell-by date,” according to the Washington Department of Health.
The dairy owners have until Oct. 16 to appeal the suspension. The state also issued a Notice of Correction to Pride & Joy yesterday because of the presence of pathogens in their milk.
“The milk processing plant, based in Toppenish, still has milk producer licenses, allowing it to ship milk to other processing facilities for pasteurization,” the ag department (WSDA) reported.
“WSDA took the step of suspending the milk processing plant license for Pride and Joy after tests by the state Department of Health confirmed that the Salmonella pathogens detected in the milk samples matched the unique strain, Salmonella Dublin, identified in illnesses that hospitalized two people this past January.
“In September, WSDA’s laboratory detected the Salmonella pathogen in samples from the dairy taken as part of the routine testing of all licensed raw milk dairy operations. Isolates from those samples were submitted to Department of Health for further testing, resulting in the confirmed linkage to the earlier salmonella illnesses.”
Dairy owners believe they are targets
The owners of Pride & Joy Puget Sound LLC were uncharacteristically quiet this evening after the Washington agriculture and health departments posted the new information. The owners, Allen Voortman, Cheryl Voortman, Ricky Umipig and Cindy Umipig, did not immediately respond to requests for comment today.
Since February the dairy operators have been denying that there are any food safety issues with raw milk in general or their operation specifically. They have posted statements on their company’s website and Facebook page saying they are being unfairly targeted by state officials, suggesting big dairy is orchestrating actions by state officials across the country to kill the raw milk movement.
Eight days ago, on Sept. 28, the Voortmans and Umipigs refused a request from the Washington State Department of Agriculture to recall a batch of their raw milk that was found to be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria during routine testing by the state. All dairies in the state are subject to such testing.
The Pride & Joy owners said no one had reported becoming ill and that the contamination could have occurred after the milk left their control — suggesting retailers, consumers, state inspectors and laboratory employees could have contaminated the unpasteurized milk.
Seven days ago, on Sept. 29, the dairy owners quietly asked retailers to pull the milk and posted a note on the company’s Facebook page telling consumers they could return the milk for a full refund. That batch of milk was produced on Sept. 13, bottled in various sized containers, stamped with a use-by date of Oct. 4, and distributed to retailers and drop-off points across the state of Washington.
Months of health concerns
Washington state officials began investigating possible contamination of the unpasteurized, organic milk being produced by Pride & Joy in January when two people with lab-confirmed Salmonella infections reported having consumed raw milk from the dairy before becoming ill.
When state inspectors collected samples of the dairy’s raw milk at that time, they didn’t return positive results for Salmonella, but they were contaminated with E. coli. The dairy owners recalled some of their raw milk, temporarily ceased sales, and worked with the state to clean and sanitize their operation.
At that time, Washington officials reminded the public that although unpasteurized milk can be sold at farm stands, drop off sites and retail stores in the state, it is considered a health hazard and is not recommended for young children, the elderly, pregnant women or people with suppressed immune systems.
The danger comes from the fact that without pasteurization bacteria and parasites that are often present in raw milk can survive, multiply and infect people. Washington state law requires raw dairy to carry warning labels to that effect.
With the confirmation today that the Salmonella found in the Pride & Joy raw milk in September matches the bacteria that infected people in January, state officials renewed their warnings.
“Unpasteurized ‘raw’ milk can carry harmful bacteria and germs. Foodborne illnesses are possible from many different foods; however, raw milk is one of the riskiest,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington state communicable disease epidemiologist.
The state health officials referenced information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to back up their warnings. According to the CDC, states that allow the sale of raw milk have more raw milk-related illness outbreaks than states that prohibit raw milk sales. Federal law prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk across state lines.
Anyone who has consumed Pride & Joy organic, raw milk and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should immediately seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the bacteria. Symptoms usually begin within hours, but can take up to two weeks to develop in some people.
Symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and, in some cases, arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.