Consumers warned against consuming unpasteurized dairy products

State health officials have linked three cases of E. coli O157:H7 illness with raw milk from a dairy farm in Gibbon, Minn. The Minnesota Department of Health urges anyone who may have recently purchased milk from the Hartmann Dairy Farm, also known as M.O.M.’s, to discard the product and not consume it. The milk may be labeled organic and consumers may be unaware that the milk has not been pasteurized. In addition, consumers should not eat cheese, ice cream or other dairy products from the farm, which also may have been made from raw, unpasteurized milk.

Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 illness typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea.People typically become ill two to five days after eating contaminated food. E. coli O157:H7 disease sometimes leads to a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure and can occur a week or more after the onset of diarrhea. People who have developed symptoms after consuming unpasteurized milk should seek immediate medical attention. Those most at risk of developing complications from E. coli infection include the very young, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are continuing to investigate a cluster of four E. coli O157:H7 illnesses that all have the same “pulsed field gel electrophoresis” (PFGE) patterns, or DNA fingerprint. Three of the four cases report a link to milk from Hartmann Farm; the fourth case is under investigation. Three of the four people were hospitalized as a result of their illness; one case has developed HUS.

Minnesota law prohibits most raw milk sales, except for occasional purchases directly at the farm where the milk is produced. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture investigates complaints and cases of food-borne illness associated with the sale of raw milk. Enforcement actions can be taken in cases when sales of raw milk are identified and people become ill from consuming the raw milk.

Officials from both agencies warn the public against drinking raw milk because it may contain harmful bacteria that can cause life-threatening illnesses. Raw milk is not treated or pasteurized to remove disease-causing bacteria.

Pasteurization is the only effective method for eliminating the bacteria in raw milk and milk products. Pasteurization uses heat applied for a length of time sufficient to destroy harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 without significantly changing milk’s nutritional value. Despite claims to the contrary, the body of scientific evidence shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional value of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization prevents a variety of infections that can be spread by consumption of milk. All milk shipped between states is required, by law, to be pasteurized.

Between 1973 and 1992, 46 outbreaks associated with raw milk consumption were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional 45 outbreaks were reported to CDC between 1998 and May 2005, accounting for 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations, and two deaths.

Anyone who has experienced illness after consuming dairy products from Hartmann’s Farm should consult their health care provider. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Health is requesting that these individuals call the agency at 651-201-5414.