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Listeria at Pennsylvania Dairy Prompts Warning on Raw Milk

Mar 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Listeria tainted milk has prompted Pennsylvania health officials to issue  a warning about raw milk sold by a dairy in Butler county.   State agriculture officials say the raw milk from the Fisher’s Dairy in Portersville, a town in southwestern Pennsylvania, should be discarded immediately because samples tested positive for the bacteria Listeria.  Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized or homogenized.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis annually; 500 result in death. Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, a serious although relatively rare infection.  Listeriosis is a type of food poisoning especially dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, and those with chronic medical conditions.  

Most people infected with listeriosis only experience mild flu like symptoms—fever, muscle aches, nausea, or diarrhea—and usually never report them.  In serious cases, the disease spreads to the nervous system, causing headaches, stiff neck, and convulsions.  Listeria lives in soil and water and can easily contaminate dairy and beef products; because Listeria thrives in cold, milk is an ideal environment.  Listeriosis outbreaks have been associated with consuming unpasteurized or raw milk, contaminated soft cheeses, vegetables, and ready-to-eat meats.  Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill, contaminating foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products.

An agriculture department spokesman says officials also question the pasteurization process at Fisher's Dairy in Portersville.  The state is trying to determine how the Listeria is getting into the milk.  Dairy owner Richard Fisher says he canceled his raw milk permit last year, but kept selling raw milk to a few customers who requested it and says he expects tests on his pasteurized milk to be negative.

In 1998, 15 deaths and six miscarriages were linked to Listeria traced to meat shipped from the Bil Mar factory.  In recent months, Listeria has been the focus of a number of outbreaks, including at least three cases in North Carolina which were linked to soft cheeses from a variety of sources, and an outbreak at the Whittier Farms dairy in Massachusetts resulted in the deaths of four people

In January, in Olympia, Washington, the Ca Rem #1 Ice Cream, SeaTac voluntarily recalled its coconut-flavored popsicles when routine sampling and analysis by the Washington State Department of Agriculture revealed the presence of Listeria.  In February, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) alerted the public to avoid consuming smoked pork and beef bratwurst produced by J&B Meats, of Barnesville, Minnesota when a routine product sampling revealed contamination with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.  

Earlier this month, Meijer Inc. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, pulled 2,184 pounds of frozen entrees after the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) alerted the company that microbiological sample testing showed the food could be tainted with Listeria.  Most recently, the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company voluntarily recalled four types of prepared chicken due to potential Listeria contamination.


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