Laboratory tests have confirmed E. coli infections in a young child and an elderly person in Washington state who drank unpasteurized, raw milk from the same dairy. 

The implicated dairy was linked to an E. coli outbreak in 2009 and recalled some of its raw milk in 2013 after state tests found E. coli.

Owners of the Dungeness Valley Creamery in Sequim, WA, are questioning the validity of a warning posted yesterday by the state Department of Health (DOH). The warning says both E. coli patients drank unpasteurized milk from the dairy.

“No E. Coli has been found in samples of our product at this time. The Department of Health is in our opinion prematurely speculating that our milk was the source,” according to a statement from dairy owners Ryan and Sarah McCarthey that was posted on the dairy’s Facebook page early yesterday evening. The couple says the dairy produces about 300 gallons of raw milk every day.

The Dungeness Valley Creamery website did not appear to include information about the Sept. 7 warning or the McCarthey’s statement in response to it. Their Facebook “notice to consumers” says the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) collected three samples of the dairy’s raw milk on Aug. 14 as part of a required, routine testing program for certified raw milk dairies. The dairy owners say the samples were taken “after the date of illness onset referenced in the DOH press release.” The statement on the dairy’s Facebook page says all three samples returned negative results for “harmful pathogens.”

However, the Washington Department of Health warning did not include any information regarding when the 5-year-old child and the elderly adult became ill. The child lives in Island County and the adult who is “in their 70s” lives in Clallam County, according to the DOH. The state health department warning doesn’t include any other details about the patients or their status.

The warning contains general information about raw milk and symptoms of E. coli infection.

“Raw milk doesn’t go through the pasteurization process where harmful germs and bacteria are destroyed. This puts infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system at a greater risk of illness when they drink it,” Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington state communicable disease epidemiologist, said in the warning.

E. coli infections may cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloody stool, according to the health department. Symptoms take four to nine days to appear. In some cases, the infection causes a serious disease resulting in kidney failure. 

The health department urges anyone who develops symptoms of food poisoning after consuming raw milk from any source to consult with their health care providers and notify their local health departments. Specific laboratory tests are necessary to diagnose E. coli infections. The bacteria can cause symptoms similar to some intestinal viruses, often making them difficult to identify.

Inspectors from the Washington agriculture department conducted “an extra sampling of our milk they obtained from a store,” according to the dairy owners Ryan and Sarah McCarthey.

“Last week WSDA informed us they were going to conduct an extra sampling of our milk they obtained from a store. I (Ryan) offered for them to pick up multiple samples spanning several production dates from our bottling plant because a larger span of product would help find anything in the milk if it were in there,” according to the dairy’s Facebook message to consumers. 

“Tuesday they picked up the additional 6 samples, and the results of all 7 product samples are expected to be ready Saturday September 8th. We will inform you of these results as soon as we hear from WSDA.”

On the Dungeness Valley Creamery website, the dairy is described as 38 acres of pasture with 60 Jersey cows. It gained state certification as a raw milk dairy in 2006. In their mission statement, the dairy owners cite the motivation behind their business:

“The Dungeness Valley Creamery, a family owned and operated business, exists to honor God through preserving good stewardship of land and cattle. We strive to offer wholesome raw dairy products and a nostalgic ambiance to enhance our communities health, well-being and life.”

Federal law prohibits the transportation or sale of unpasteurized, raw milk across state lines. Public health officials from the local level up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long warned about the risks of contracting infections, viruses and parasites from unpasteurized dairy products.

It is illegal in many states to distribute or sell unpasteurized, raw dairy products. Some states allow raw dairy sales under certain restrictions, such as cow-share programs that require consumers to “buy” a share of an animal or herd. The participants pay up front to cover their portion of the dairy’s expenses, which entitles them to receive their share of the milk. 

Some states, including Washington and California, allow unpasteurized dairy products to be sold by retailers. In such states there are usually inspection and testing requirements. Washington has such precautions in place. The state also requires warning labels on unpasteurized dairy products. 

Over the years, outbreak investigations of illnesses caused by various bacteria and other foodborne pathogens have been traced to unpasteurized, raw milk and other dairy products — such as cheese — that are made with it.

Public health officers, medical organizations, children’s advocacy groups, and numerous scientific, peer-reviewed research projects report no documented health benefits related to unpasteurized milk.

However, raw milk advocates, including the owners of Dungeness Valley Creamery, say raw milk can reduce or eliminate a wide variety of health problems ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes.

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