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Whittier Farms Milk Listeria Outbreak Could Continue for Months

Jan 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The outbreak of listeria tied to Whittier Farms Milk that killed three people in Massachusetts might not be over.  Health officials in that state concede that although they are hopeful that the worst has passed, the long incubation period of listeria bacteria makes it possible that more people could become ill from listeria-tainted Whittier Farms Milk.

Listeriosis
is a type of food poisoning especially dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, and those with chronic medical conditions.  The contamination causes mild flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea.  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 offers an ideal environment.

So far, the listeria contaminated milk made by Whittier Farms has killed three elderly men.  A 78-year-old man was the first to die from the tainted milk in June.   A 75-year-old man died in October and an 87-year-old man fell ill in November and died last Thursday.    In total, four people have developed listeriosis so far, and Whittier Farms Milk has been blamed for causing the fourth victim to suffer a miscarriage.  Last week, it was confirmed that coffee-flavored milk from a cooler at the Whittier Farms dairy carried germs identical to the listeria bacteria that sickened all four victims.   

State health officials have also established a possible link between Whittier Farms Milk and a fifth case in the outbreak. The new suspected case involves a 31-year-old pregnant woman who fell ill in September after drinking milk from Whittier Farms. State health officials said the woman and her baby are doing well.

Despite the fact that the Whittier Farms dairy is currently shut down, health officials in Massachusetts are concerned that more people could become ill from the tainted milk.  That’s because listeriosis has a 70 day incubation period.  If someone consumed listeria-tainted Whittier Farms Milk the day the Massachusetts Health Department issued its first public warning on the outbreak – December 27 – symptoms of listeriosis could appear as late as March 6, 2008.

According to local media reports, state health officials are continuing to investigate how milk from Whittier Farms became contaminated. The department collected more than 100 production-line samples from the dairy last week, and the results are expected later this week.  Whittier Farms was last inspected by the state in October.  Whittier Farms has earned praise from state inspectors for the cleanliness of its operations and adherence to regulations. Minor violations noted on state reports during the last decade have been promptly corrected, and none revealed the presence of listeria contamination prior to the current outbreak.


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