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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

A Risky Drink – Raw Milk Consumption Does Cause E. coli and Campylobater Infections

I know my friends over at Weston A. Price Association and the Complete Patient think I spend all my time beating up on raw milk (hmm, did they notice what I did to Cargill last week?). What really gets to me about the "raw milkies," is their religious passion for their personal freedom trumping the fact that people get very sick from drinking raw milk on more than a few occasions. It also drives me a bit crazy how they see everything as a evil conspiracy – that all the outbreak investigations are wrong – or that there must have been something wrong with the victim. I also wonder why a retail outlet would take the risk of selling it.  It is a time for a big cold glass of reality. Here is a shortened version of what happened in the Campylobacter and E. coli raw milk outbreaks that I have been involved with:

Grace Harbor Farms

M.S. acquired an E. coli O157:H7 infection from consumption of raw milk in September, 2006. He developed a fever, nausea, and severe diarrhea. When the diarrhea turned bloody, M.S. was taken to his physician. Out of concern that he was at risk for the development of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), M.S. was transported to the local children’s hospital. M.S. was admitted to the hospital on September 22. There, MS was treated for his ongoing infection and monitored for signs of HUS. The severity of his symptoms required that MS be hospitalized through October 2. Thankfully, MS did not develop HUS. Medical bills for the hospitalization exceeded $30,000.

Organic Pastures

Chris Martin, then age nine, developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in September, 2006 following consumption of raw milk. He was hospitalized beginning on September 8, suffering from severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloody diarrhea. Shortly thereafter, he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). In an effort to properly treat his rapidly deteriorating condition, Chris was moved to multiple medical facilities, twice by life-flight. His HUS was remarkably severe, marked by prolonged renal failure, pancreatitis, and severe cardiac involvement. He required 18 days of renal replacement therapy. On two occasions his cardiac problems became so severe that he was placed on a ventilator. At several junctures, the possibility that he might survive was very real. Ultimately he was hospitalized through November 2, after incurring over $550,000 in medical bills. Renal experts have opined that Chris is likely to develop severe renal complications in the future. These complications include end stage renal disease (ESRD) and kidney transplant.

Lauren Herzog developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in September, 2006, as the result of consumption of raw milk. She was 11 years old at the time. Lauren was hospitalized beginning on September 11. Shortly thereafter, Lauren began to developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and was transferred to specialty care facility. Lauren’s bout with HUS was severe. Her renal failure was prolonged, and she required 20 days of dialysis. She also suffered from pancreatitis and persistent high blood pressure. In late September, her kidneys finally began producing urine again, and she was gradually prepared for discharge. She was then discharged on October 3, but only briefly. A seizure led to a re-admittance to the hospital from October 6 through October 14. Since her second discharge, Lauren has continued to show residual kidney deficiency, and remains under the care of a nephrologist. To date, medical expenses exceed $280,000. Renal experts believe that Lauren is likely to suffer severe renal complications in the future. These complications include end stage renal disease (ESRD) and kidney transplant.

Herb Depot/Autum Olives Farms

Larry Pedersen had just turned one year old when he developed an E. coli O157:H7 in May 2008. When his diarrhea turned bloody, his parents took him for medical treatment. He was admitted to the hospital on May 8. Shortly thereafter, Larry developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and was transferred to a specialty care facility. As is typical of HUS, Larry was then suffering from acute renal failure. He was started on dialysis, which was necessary at that point for his survival. He required 15 days of dialysis before his kidneys recovered enough to function on their own. Larry was discharged on May 29, to continue recovery and treatment on an outpatient basis. The medical bills associated with his care approached $90,000. As the result of damage to his kidneys suffered during his bout with HUS, Larry is at significant risk for severe renal complications in the future. These complications include end stage renal disease (ESRD) and kidney transplant.

Nicole Riggs developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in May, 2008 from consumption of raw goat’s milk. She was nine years old at the time. Nicole suffered from symptoms typical of E. coli O157:H7 infections – bloody diarrhea, cramping, and nausea – that quickly intensified and led to her hospitalization on May 8, 2008. Once hospitalized, Nicole developed renal failure, anemia, and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) indicating that she was developing HUS. She was transferred to a Children’s hospital and started on dialysis in order to save her life. She received dialysis for 18 days. Nicole’s renal function slowly returned to the point that she was deemed healthy enough for discharge on June 1. After discharge, she remained under the care of a nephrologist. In addition, damage suffered during her HUS has required that her gall bladder be removed. Medical costs to this point exceed $180,000. As the result of damage to her kidneys suffered during her bout with HUS, Nicole is at significant risk for severe renal complications in the future. These complications include end stage renal disease (ESRD) and kidney transplant.

Noah Ennis developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection in May, 2008 after consumption of raw goat’s milk. He was two years old at the time. He suffered from bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and painful cramps. He received medical treatment on multiple occasions at both his regular physician’s office, and the emergency room. Medical bills totaled over $1,600.

Alexandre EcoDairy Farm

Mari Tardiff was one of those sickened in the 2008 outbreak of campylobacter connected to raw milk sold by Alexandre EcoDairy Farm. As a result of her campylobacter infection, Mari developed Guillain Barré syndrome, or GBS, a potentially fatal inflammatory disorder. GBS is an infrequent, but well known risk of campylobacter infection. By the time she was hospitalized in mid June, Mari was essentially paralyzed. On June 15, Mari was intubated and placed on mechanical ventilation. For weeks on end, Mari’s condition remained unchanged. She was heavily sedated, unable to move, and entirely dependent on mechanical ventilation for survival.

In August, there were indications of slight improvement, and the very slow process of weaning Mari off mechanical ventilation began. At the outset, it was not clear that the process was successful. Through incredible effort on Mari’s part, she was fully weaned off mechanical ventilation by August 20, and discharged to a rehabilitation facility. She spent more than two months at the rehabilitation facility diligently attempting to re-acquire the ability to speak, breathe, and move her arms and legs on her own. She was discharged home on November 1, still in need of essentially 24 hour care. Since that time, she has worked every day toward achieving her goal, as yet unreached, of walking again. Medical expenses to date exceed $800,000.

Dee Creek

Nicole and Megan Beyers both suffered E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to raw milk consumption in December, 2005. Nicole fell ill first, and by December 6, both girls were suffering from diarrhea, nausea, and cramps. On December 10, the girls were treated in the emergency room, and tests indicated that Nicole was likely suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Nicole was then transferred to a hospital better equipped to handle her serious condition. Nicole remained hospitalized through December 15. Her renal function will have to be monitored for the rest of her life. The girls’ medical expenses were approximately $20,000.

Annalise Selby was one year old in December of 2005 when she developed an E. coli O157:H7 infection from consumption of raw milk. Annalise was treated on multiple occasions at her family physician and the local urgent care center between December 5 and December 13. At that point, concerns over unusual lab results and possible HUS prompted consultation with a pediatric nephrologist. Annalise was accordingly admitted to the hospital from December 13 through December 15. Fortunately, her condition did not deteriorate further. The cost of medical treatment exceeded $8,000.

For a complete discussion, see:

Comparing the Food Safety Record of Pasteurized and Raw Milk Products

Raw Milk "Cons" – Literature Review

Raw Milk "Pros" – Literature Review

  • Andrew Gscheidle

    Congratulations – you proved that people get sick every once in a while from drinking raw milk! Who knew?
    As a father of four children, I plan on continuing our consumption of raw milk. Could my children get Campylobacter and E. coli? Yup! But they can get those many, many other places and are more likely to get them from plethora of factory-farmed foods available throughout the land. I feel that the long-term health consequences of pasteurized milk pose a greater risk.
    People have been eating and living without modern science for ages. How did they ever get along in life with such terrible foods?
    The threat of food poisoning is like flying, driving, and swimming in the ocean, etc. Every once in a while, a plane crashes, cars wreck, and people get eaten by sharks. That doesn’t stop us from doing those things because they’re generally recognized as safe.
    Reports like this would make it seem like raw milk food poisoning is a common occurrence – just like the media years ago made it seem like shark attacks were common even though at the time, you were more likely to get bit by a New Yorker than a shark!
    I suspect that when compared with the number of servings sold and consumed, the amount of raw milk food poisoning is very small. Of course that’s cold comfort to those who’ve suffered loss or harm – I know!
    The reality though is that people experience food-born illness. Eating is dangerous business, after all anything that enters the body could harbor bacteria or parasites.
    The above instances of food poisoning are indeed unfortunate, but still the exception rather than the norm. Getting your food from good local sources you personally know and trust is still the best defense against food-born illness IMO.

  • Andrew Gscheidle

    One more thing… I am not so sure that I would trust the viewpoint of an organization of food safety litigation attorneys to paint an accurate viewpoint of raw milk safety.

  • raqcuel

    HI, I grew up drinking goat’s milk from our goat – I am a big fan of raw milk since pasteurizing removes a lot of benefits from milk. HOWEVER……kidney disease is a pretty big drawback. For folks who really want to drink raw milk they should get a goat (easier to own than a cow), put it in their backyard and get the milk themselves. Keep the pen clean, keep the animal clean. I think this would be the only responsible way to feed raw milk to children.