The Washington State Departments of Health and Agriculture today released information linking recent E. coli illnesses in Washington State to raw milk produced by the Dungeness Valley Creamery in Sequim, WA. See www.marlerblog.com. I will point out up front that the Dungeness Valley Creamery, which appears to be where the milk was produced, is a dairy properly licensed in Washington to sell raw milk. I would ban the sale of raw milk from any dairy in the country, personally, whether licensed or not, but that is not the point of this post. Every time a raw milk outbreak happens, which is relatively frequently, it causes me to think how many options there really are for people who are looking to purchase the product . . . even in states that otherwise ban it.
I talked recently in an article on foodsafetynews.com about the deceptive, transparent efforts of many unlicensed dairies to sell raw milk under the guise of cow-share agreements. Read the article here. First of all, these arrangements are patently illegal in most states, including Washington, and even states where the Legislature has not specifically condemned them. Read Washington State Dept of Agriculture’s views on cow-share agreements for a perfect example. And second, it’s really a little scary to think that, because these dairies are selling raw milk without having to meet state licensure requirements, some of them produce their product under some terrible conditions.
Dee Creek Farm in Woodland Washington was a prime example. Prior to the December 2005 outbreak, Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) had learned of Dee Creek Farm’s cow-share program, and had ordered the farm to cease the dispensing, giving, trading, or selling of milk or to meet requirements for selling milk that had been laid out by WSDA. The letter was sent in August, 2005, and WSDA received a response from Dee Creek Farm in September, 2005, stating that the farm was not selling milk but that the farm’s owners intended to meet requirements for a milk producer and retail raw milk processor in the future.
During the December investigation into the E. coli outbreak, WSDA noted several milk processing violations that would have been addressed during the licensing process had Dee Creek applied for the license. Among the violations were the following:
1. No animal health testing documentation for brucellosis and tuberculosis or health permits
2. Beef cattle contact with wild elk
3. No water or waste water system available at milk barn for milking operations or cleaning
4. No hand washing sinks available for cleaning and sanitizing
5. No bacteriological test results available for the farm’s well-water system
6. Mud/manure with standing water at the entrance to the milk barn parlor
7. Milking bucket in direct contact with unclean surfaces during milk production
8. Multiple instances providing for the opportunity for cross-contamination
9. No separate milk processing area from domestic kitchen
10. No raw milk warning label provided on containers
In addition, sample testing confirmed the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in two milk samples provided by Dee Creek Farm and in five environmental samples taken from Dee Creek Farm milk-barn areas by investigators.
When its investigation was completed, WSDA had identified eighteen people who had consumed raw milk purchased from Dee Creek Farm through the cow-share program and developed symptoms consistent with E. coli infection. 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.
Maybe none of these illnesses would have been prevented had the dairy met the licensing requirements of the state. But maybe the entire outbreak wouldn’t have happened. Had Dee Creek become properly licensed before the outbreak, many of the violations noted above would have been far less likely to have occurred.