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Whittier Farms Milk Probe Continues, as Investigators Search for Source of Listeria that Killed Two

Jan 2, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Milk Probe Continues

Whittier Farms Milk Sickened Four People

The investigation into listeria-tainted Whittier Farms Milk that sickened at least four people in Massachusetts is ongoing. State health inspectors met last week at Whittier Farm’s processing plant to continue investigation of the listeria bacteria contamination source linked to the deaths of two elderly men.  Shrewsbury Health Director Nancy Allen said she met with an official from the state Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Milk Inspection Program yesterday adding that the inspector would review pasteurization records and look into how listeria contaminated the milk.  Food protection inspectors were at the dairy conducting tests.

“We have not identified any problems in past inspections,” said Tom Lyons, spokesman for DPH.  We have to determine what is the source of the contamination because of their inspection history.”  Dr. Alfred DeMaria Jr., DPH director of communicable diseases, said yesterday, “The dairy has had no deficiencies in terms of their process,” adding that officials are working to determine where in the process contamination occurred, perhaps following pasteurization.

Whittier Farms Shut Down After Samples From The Plant Found Listeria

Whittier Farms voluntarily shut down its operations after samples taken from the plant found listeria and will remain closed until the contamination source is confirmed, DeMaria said.  The company released a statement saying it was fully cooperating with the investigation.

The DPH did not identify the four people who contracted listeriosis, but said a 75-year-old man died in June, a 78-year-old man died in October, an 87-year-old man fell ill in November, and a 34-year-old pregnant woman became ill and miscarried as a result of the listeria bacteria.  Health officials connected all four cases to Whittier Farms after a culture taken from the plant came back positive for listeria.  The contamination is an anomaly for the nationally recognized, family-owned dairy.  In 2001, Whittier Farms received the National Dairy Quality Regional Award for U.S. dairy producers who turn out high-quality milk, ranking Whittier Farms among the top dairy farms in the Northeast.

State officials said listeria contamination poses a low risk to the general public, but are advising people not to consume milk products from Whittier Farms.  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.

Meanwhile, there were at least three confirmed cases of listeriosis in North Carolina involving Latinas; two were pregnant women whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage.  The third case also involved a pregnant woman who delivered early and she and her baby are doing well.  Another probable case involves a pregnant Latina who lost her baby.  All four women consumed soft cheeses from a variety of sources.  Although the cases occurred close together in time, data from molecular testing confirmed different strains were involved.  Because a single product does not seem to be the source, a general Listeria warning was issued.

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