Judge Rex D. Stacey, Sibley County, Minnesota has ruled that Hartmann Farm’s raw milk products embargoed by the Minnesota should properly be destroyed. In so doing, the Court found unequivocally that the farm’s products were the cause of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in May, 2010. To view the full pdf of the ruling click here. The twenty-three page ruling is a thorough rebuke of the manner in which the farm was operated. Furthermore, the untenable and unsupported arguments put forth by the farm are refuted point by point.
The heart of the ruling reads:
Hartmann argues that no test results showed the existence of any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render the food product injurious to health, which is required to prove the food is adulterated. Eight people became ill with the same, rare strain of E. Coli. The only commonality among these eight people was that they all consumed Hartmann products within days of becoming ill. This same rare, strain of E. Coli was present in samples taken from the Hartmann farm. This Court has no doubt that these people became ill from consuming Hartmann products. It is a logical deduction, based on all the expert testimony and exhibits, that the food was adulterated under Minn. Stat. § 31.121 and should be destroyed.
Hartmann also argues that no food product tested positive for E. Coli O157:H7, only environmental samples did. Drs. Scheftel and Neeser testified that E. Coli O157:H7 is a human pathogen not naturally found in milk but found in the gut and fecal material of ruminants, including cows. Dr. Scheftel further testified that some strain of E. Coli O157:H7 is found on about 30-40% of farms, but only in about 4% of animals tested at any given time. MDH found E. Coli O157:H7 in 28 of 80 environmental samples from the Hartmann farm and 26 of those E. Coli isolates matched the unique strain of E. Coli O157:H7 that eight people were ill from. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that the consumption of Hartmann products was the source of illness of these people. Based upon this, the epidemiologic investigation and the insanitary conditions observed on May 26, 2010 and June 16, 2010 by inspectors, MDA had probable cause to believe the embargoed goods were adulterated. The embargoed dairy products are adulterated because they have been produced, prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth or may have been rendered unwholesome or injurious to health. Minn. Stat § 31.121 (f) (2008). The conditions in the barn and dairy plant are insanitary, as supported by reports,testimony and photographs, in addition to the illnesses reported and the epidemiologic investigation determining Hartmann product to be the source of those illnesses.
The ruling also includes frightening details on the insanitary conditions on the farm:
Dr. Stacy Holzbauer, Dr. Joni Scheftel, and MDA Inspector Jason Gibbs testified to the extreme buildup of manure on virtually every surface in the dairy barn. Thick layers of cobwebs and dust coated the dairy barn ceiling. The milk house ceiling was water damaged and crumbling, a milk house wall was damaged, apparently by water, and not easily cleanable, and the floor was pitted and pooling liquids. Dead flies in cobwebs clung to the milk house walls and live flies were abundant. The exterior of the bulk tank and the floor behind it were notably dirty. The milking equipment, pipeline system, receiving jar, bulk tank and cleaning sinks were observed to have buildup inside and out. MDA witnesses testified that dark buildup appeared to result from milk leaking out Of equipment, allowing contaminants to infiltrate. Buildup results from lack of cleaning and prevents thorough cleaning. The pipeline had a significant dent likely making it impossible to fully drain and dry the line. Flies and their droppings covered surfaces like the pipeline exterior.
Milking equipment, such as the milker claws which come in direct contact with milk, was improperly stored in the sink. Mr. Gibbs observed that the milker claws were stored in an unclean sink and in contact with water pooled in the sink. Mr. Gibbs also testified that there is an increased risk of bacterial contamination posed by storing equipment in a manner that prevents it from drying completely. Mr. Gibbs is an expert in the field of dairy sanitation.
Furthermore, dead animals were observed in and around the dairy barn. Chickens roamed the milking barn and milk house. Barn and milk house doors were not tight fitting to exclude insects and other pests and stood open. Junk and weedy areas that provide harborage for insects and rodents were found in the milking barn and around the milk house and dairy plant. The milking barn was inadequately lighted. Dairy plant equipment, such as the butter packager, bottle washer and ice cream maker, was observed to be rusty and corroded or in otherwise unacceptable condition. Rodent droppings were found in the dairy plant’s utility room, through which people and product pass through from the bottling room to the rest of the dairy plant, and in the storage area above the processing areas.
Yes, I know, I know, it is all a big government/big agriculture conspiracy. I have a hard time understanding how people continue to rally around a business that operates in this manner.
Perhaps one final indictment of the dairy’s credibility can be found in this argument that the products should be spared for the owners’ "personal use." I mean, come on…. "The Hartmanns’ say they would like to keep the dairy products for personal use. A claim that a family of four will personally consume 900 packages, forty-odd tubs and boxes of cheese, and 76 cases of butter is not credible."
The ruling also contains solid explanations of the use of epidemiology in tracing the source of an outbreak that is well worth the read.