Over Thanksgiving week, Cozy Vale Creamery in Tenino, Washington, recalled its raw milk products because they had caused three E. coli O157:H7 illnesses.  Environmental swabbing at the facility revealed multiple positive E. coli tests in the milking parlor and processing areas. At least two of the three victims were children who developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS.

Cozy Vale Creamery’s whole and skim milk and cream were distributed through seven retail outlets in Pierce, Thurston and King counties. The products were sold retail at the farm store and at Marlene’s Market in Tacoma, two Olympia Food Co-Op locations in Olympia, Olympia Local Foods in Tumwater, Yelm Co-op in Yelm, Mt. Community Co-op in Eatonville and Marlene’s Market in Federal Way.

This is not the first E. coli outbreak in Washington State linked to raw milk, and it likely will not be the last, as Washington is one of multiple states that allows the sale of raw milk from licensed dairies.  In 2005, a dairy in Woodland, Washington called Dee Creek Farm, which was not licensed to sell raw milk, was the source of at least 18 E. coli illnesses.  The farms conditions were deplorable.  The Washington Department of Agriculture investigation showed multiple safety problems that likely contributed to the outbreak, including:

  • No animal health testing documentation for brucellosis and tuberculosis or health permits;
  • Beef cattle contact with wild elk;
  • No water or waste water system available at milk barn for milking operations or cleaning;
  • No hand washing sinks available for cleaning and sanitizing;
  • No bacteriological test results available for the farm’s well-water system;
  • Mud/manure with standing water at the entrance to the milk barn parlor;
  • Milking bucket in direct contact with unclean surfaces during milk production;
  • Multiple instances providing for the opportunity for cross-contamination;
  • No separate milk processing area from domestic kitchen;
  • No raw milk warning label provided on containers;
  • In addition, sample testing confirmed the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in two milk samples rovided by Dee Creek Farm and in five environmental samples taken from Dee Creek Farm milk-barn areas by investigators.

In the Dee Creek outbreak, five Clark County, Washington, children were hospitalized, with two developing hemolytic uremic syndrome and requiring critical care and life support for kidney failure as a result of their E. coli infections.

At least 2 other raw milk E. coli outbreaks have occured in Washington.  In September 2006, two young children were infected by E. coli O157:H7 as a result of consuming raw goat’s milk produced and sold by Grace Harbor Farm. Multiple environmental specimens collected at the farm during the course of the outbreak investigation tested positive for the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that infected the two young children.

In November 2009, at least 3 people were infected by raw milk produced and sold at Dungeness Valley Creamery in Sequim, Washington. In its investigation into the outbreak, the Washington State Department of Agriculture did not isolate E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in the dairy’s milk, but the WSDA did locate E. coli O157:H7 at the dairy.