Utah officials identify source of raw cow’s milk linked to illness outbreak

Unpasteurized dairy products can be dangerous to your health

(Salt Lake City, UT)—The Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) have identified the source of a cluster of 14 confirmed cases of illness associated with drinking “raw” (unpasteurized) cow’s milk. Campylobacter has been isolated from raw cow’s milk from Utah Natural Meat and Milk, a dairy operating in West Jordan, Utah. At least 12 of the cases reported drinking raw milk purchased at the dairy before they got sick and the bacteria found in the milk is the same genetic Campylobacter strain that infected those who were ill.

The dairy’s license to sell raw cow’s milk has been suspended pending further testing. Company officials have cooperated fully with the investigation and are working closely with UDAF to address any issues that caused the bacteria to contaminate the milk. The dairy is still open and selling other products. No new cases of Campylobacter matching the outbreak strain have been identified since the dairy’s license was suspended about a month ago.

The 14 people infected in this outbreak range in age from 2 to 73 years old. Two people were hospitalized but are now recovering at home.

Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Illness can last for up to a week or more and can be serious, especially for young children, pregnant women, older adults, and anyone who has a weakened immune system or other health condition. In severe cases, complications from campylobacteriosis can lead to paralysis and even death. Anyone who recently consumed raw milk or raw milk products and has any of these symptoms should contact a healthcare provider.

Raw milk is milk from cows, goats, or sheep that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Pasteurization is the only effective way to get rid of most harmful germs in raw milk or milk products. Other products made from raw milk, such as cream or queso fresco, can also make you sick.

Public health officials advise Utahns to consume only dairy products that have been pasteurized. In Utah, raw milk and raw milk products may only be sold directly from farm to consumer. Grocery stores in Utah may only sell pasteurized dairy products. Farms that sell raw milk to consumers must be licensed by the UDAF. There are 16 licensed raw milk retailers in Utah; three are in Salt Lake County. Delaney Moore, an epidemiologist with DHHS says, “Bacterial contamination of raw milk can happen even when dairy workers follow hygienic practices. The only way to make sure raw milk is free from harmful bacteria is to pasteurize it.”

Raw milk contaminated with disease-causing bacteria does not smell or look any different from uncontaminated raw milk and there is no easy way for a consumer to know whether raw milk contains harmful bacteria.

People who choose to consume raw milk or raw milk products should do the following to help decrease the chance of illness:

  • Heat raw milk to 165° F for at least 15 seconds (and then cool it) before consuming.
  • Keep raw milk and raw milk products refrigerated at or below 40° F; do not let raw milk sit out at room temperature.

In Utah, since 2009, there have been 25 documented outbreaks of campylobacteriosis associated with raw milk consumption. Those outbreaks have collectively resulted in at least 295 people becoming ill.