New Jersey currently has two residents that are ill in connection to a major outbreak caused by the consumption of raw milk from a Pennsylvania farm. Currently 78 people in several states have become ill with campylobacteriosis, a gastrointestinal illness, from the consumption of raw milk contaminated with bacteria. Raw milk is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that has not been pasteurized.
“Raw milk can contain a number of bacteria that can cause life-threatening illness, especially in those with compromised immune systems,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. “Since consumers cannot tell if milk is contaminated by smelling or tasting it, residents should avoid consuming raw milk because of health risks associated with it.”
The bottled raw milk products were distributed throughout Pennsylvania, including Montgomery, Bucks, Philadelphia, and Delaware counties, which all border the Delaware River. The raw milk from this farm was purchased in Pennsylvania. The sale or distribution of raw milk is banned in New Jersey.
While the majority of illness has occurred in Pennsylvania, residents in New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia have also been affected. A 27-year-old male from Burlington County and a 3-year-old male from Gloucester County both got ill after consuming raw milk from the Family Cow Dairy in Pennsylvania.
“Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism, said Health and Senior Services Deputy Commissioner Dr. Arturo Brito. “The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Residents that have consumed raw milk and have symptoms should contact their physician.”
The illness typically lasts one week. Some infected people do not have any symptoms. In those with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a life-threatening infection. Long-term complications include contracting Guillain Barre Syndrome, which may result in paralysis that lasts several weeks and usually requires intensive care.
The source of this outbreak, Family Cow Dairy, has since been permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to resume bottling. It is important to note that this outbreak occurred despite the fact that Family Cow Dairy is licensed, inspected, and operating in compliance with Pennsylvania laws.
According to the CDC, 93 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported from 1998 through 2009 resulting in 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations and two deaths. CDC released a study this week that stated the rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk and products made from it was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.
In addition to Campylobacteriosis, raw milk has been implicated in outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, salmonellosis, listeriosis, brucellosis, tuberculosis, and many other diseases.
Illnesses caused by these bacteria can be especially problematic for infants, young children, the elderly, and the immune compromised.
Anyone with knowledge of persons engaging in the sale or distribution of raw milk in New Jersey is encouraged to contact the Food and Drug Safety Program at (609) 826-4935.