Join CSTE   |   Career Center   |   Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In
CSTE Features
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   


View all (132) posts »

Raw Milk Strikes Again

Posted By Sara Ramey, Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Tennessee recently experienced an outbreak of E. coli O157 associated with raw (unpasteurized) milk, in which 9 children became ill, 5 of whom were hospitalized, and 3 of whom developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). While the sale of unpasteurized milk is unlawful in Tennessee, it seems virtually impossible to entirely stop people intent on obtaining it. In this case, the affected families participated in a "cow share" program, in which they purchased a "share" of a cow (along with 20 or so others) from a farm which then distributes the raw milk from its herd to the "owners". This scheme skirts the issue of milk sales, as the consumers are purportedly drinking milk from their own animals

There is an almost endless list of concerning aspects to this outbreak. As is typically the case in these types of situations, the people who suffered the most harm were children, who are not the ones who made the decision about what they consumed. The implicated farm is not regulated by our Department of Agriculture, as it is not a commercial milk producer, and in the absence of a disease outbreak the Department of Health has no oversight of the facility. As soon as the outbreak was over, the farm reverted to the same situation, with no required testing or other regulatory oversight (though they did ask our department to declare them safe to reopen!).Overwhelming epidemiologic evidence and matching E. coli strains from the cows and farm environment were insufficient to convince many of this farm's consumers that the milk was the source of the outbreak (after all, we did not find it in batches of milk produced many days after the implicated lots were distributed).

Important lessons can be learned in any outbreak investigation. In this case, "social media" was a useful tool, as the farm's customers were active in a Facebook group, through which case finding and education could be done. While many consumers remained distrustful and resentful of government intervention, at least one distraught family of a very ill child subsequently agreed to videotape their story for public education about the risks of raw milk. In public health I think we are all too familiar with the seeming lack of response to presentations of data and scientific evidence, compared to the dramatic effect that a single compelling personal testimonial can have on people. When even one victim of such an event has the courage to share their story, we should do everything we can to help maximize the effect of that message to prevent future similar events.
It's extremely frustrating and sad to see outbreaks like this continue to occur, all over the country, despite widespread efforts to halt them. We will continue to fight to plug the regulatory gaps and try to stay a step ahead of creative attempts to circumvent our intention of protecting the public's health. In the meantime, vigorous investigation and intervention in outbreaks can continue to build our case, and hopefully help educate our communities (including those responsible for the health of vulnerable children).
Tim Jones, MD
State Epidemiologist
Tennessee Department of Health

Tags:  food safety  infectious disease  member spotlight  outbreak 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)
Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal