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Number of people with illnesses linked to raw milk rising in Pa., Md., W.Va.

Lab tests confirm bacteria's presence in raw milk from Chambersburg dairy

February 02, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Maryland health officials say laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the illness-causing bacteria, Campylobacter jejuni, in two unopened samples purchased from the Family Cow farm in Chambersburg

The number of people in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New Jersey stricken with illness after consuming raw, unpasteurized milk from the same farm has risen to 37, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed Thursday.

Pennsylvania officials said their tests for bacteria in samples had not yet yielded results.

Later Thursday, the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Health Department reported that two Eastern Panhandle residents were stricken with the Campylobacter bacteria, according to a news release. The health department attributes the cases to the Family Cow farm outbreak, the release said.

The Family Cow farm sells raw milk at its farm store and at drop-offs, grocery stores and markets around Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley and southcentral Pennsylvania. According to the Family Cow website, the farm has decided to temporarily stop selling milk.

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Thirty states, including Pennsylvania, allow raw milk sales, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Sales are prohibited in Maryland.

In Pennsylvania, 153 facilities hold raw milk permits from the state agriculture department, agency spokeswoman Samantha Krepps said.

Five farms in Franklin County appear on a permits list on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s website.

“They have to pass an inspection by the department of agriculture,” Krepps said of farms seeking a permit.

The inspection involves the milking parlor, storage areas, temperatures and distribution practices, Krepps said. Farmers also are required to ensure there are consumer notices on containers and displays, she said.

After the initial inspection, permitted farms are required to submit to four inspections each year. They must file veterinary documents ensuring herd health with the agriculture department’s food safety division.

Phil Wagner grew up on a dairy farm and spent 36 years as a Penn State Cooperative Extension educator before retiring in 2010.

Wagner said he saw raw milk sales start to become trendy about five or six years ago when consumers started seeking “natural” foods.

“There have been people selling raw milk for years. ... It’s nothing new,” Wagner aid.

However, farmers who sold to neighbors 20 years ago got away from the practice because of permitting, he said.

“It’s a very niche market, and you only have a certain amount of consumers,” Wagner said.

Logan Horst, who was raised on a Chambersburg-area dairy farm, is a Penn State Cooperative Extension dairy educator in Franklin County.

Horst said selling raw milk gives farmers an opportunity to control their own marketing, rather than selling to a cooperative and having their pasteurized milk fall under regulated prices at the grocery store.

“People are willing to spend more for (raw milk) for whatever benefits they perceive it has,” he said.

Horst consumed raw milk in his youth. He feels it did not cause him illness because it was only hours old and his body was tolerant to it.

“I grew up on raw milk, never got sick off it or thought about safety,” he said.

Milk-drinkers cannot see or smell the harmful bacteria, according to Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety extension associate for Penn State.

“It’s a pretty severe disease when people get it,” Bucknavage said, saying symptoms often last four to six days.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns about harmful bacteria in raw milk on its website. However, organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation say raw milk builds a person’s immune system.

The milk industry started pasteurizing its products by heating them when it realized longer shipping times were sickening entire blocks of people decades ago, Bucknavage said.

Campylobacter jejuni can be ingested by mishandling food, particularly poultry, at home. Bucknavage said periodic outbreaks are not uncommon in the United States, although having more than two dozen people involved is rare.

“Everybody has to recognize there is a risk when consuming raw milk,” he said.

Campylobacter affects the intestinal tract and can sometimes affect the bloodstream and other organs. It is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis, which includes vomiting and diarrhea.

The Berkeley County Health Department recommends that anyone who has consumed raw milk in the past few weeks and is experiencing the above symptoms contact their health provider.

Raw milk facilities in Franklin County

Five farms that have a permit to sell raw milk:
1. BMB Farm, St. Thomas-Edenville Road, Chambersburg, Pa.,
2. Son Rise Farm, Amberson Road, Spring Run, Pa.
3. Stoney Ridge Farm, Swamp Fox Road, Chambersburg.
4. Family Cow LLC, Old Scotland Road, Chambersburg.
5. Wadel’s Dairy, White Church Road, Shippensburg, Pa.

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