OGDEN — The Utah Department of Health is warning people about drinking raw milk after 45 people became ill after consuming raw or unpasteurized milk products from a Weber County dairy.
All 45 cases of campylobacter infection were linked to consumption of raw milk or cream purchased at Ropelato Dairy, according to the health department. Those who were sickened by the raw products range in age from 2 to 74 and started having symptoms between May 9 and July 21, health department officials said.
The cases were reported in several counties, including Cache, Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber, according to the department. Two cases occurred in out-of-state residents from California and Idaho.
“What we’ve discovered is that an employee had not been thoroughly cleaning the udders of the cows, and that is introducing contamination, manure and feces that are in that area into the milk, which is a major problem,” said Larry Lewis with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
Food inspectors suspended the dairy’s license to sell raw milk Aug. 4. The equipment has been cleaned, and if tests come back free of any contamination, the dairy farm could be back in business in a few days.
People who become ill with campylobacteriosis may have diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and a headache within two to five days of being exposed to the bacteria.
Health department officials say illness can last for up to a week or more and can be serious, especially for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have weakened or compromised immune systems.
There is a risk attached to drinking raw milk. Epidemiologists at the Utah Department of Health say those who drink it typically know that because they have to sign a waiver saying they understand the milk is not pasteurized and they become ill from consuming it.
“It's not pasteurized, so the bacteria that is killed in pasteurized milk could still be living in this raw milk,” said Kenneth Davis, an epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health. “Drinking raw milk is dangerous.”
The warning doesn’t faze Jared St. Clair. He’s been buying milk from Ropelato Dairy for about five years. His family, which includes six children, goes through about six gallons a week.
“We got an almost 2-year-old son and since he’s been finished nursing, he’s been fed raw milk ever since and has had great health. Everything has been good,” St. Clair said. “We started giving him organic milk that’s pasteurized and almond milk over the last couple of weeks as we haven’t been able to get the raw milk. Now he’s got diarrhea, upset stomach. He’s been more fussy than he usually is.”
St. Clair said his family hasn’t experienced any issues from drinking raw milk over the years. He said the family drinks raw milk because pasteurized milk is less nutritious.
"The big factor with raw milk is that it is a whole food that is in its natural state,” St. Clair said. “When you pasteurize it, you kill all the bacteria — good and bad."
Davis said the state sees three or four outbreaks per year associated with raw milk involving 10 to 15 people. This outbreak is particular large, he said.
Raw milk contaminated with disease-causing bacteria does not smell or look any different from uncontaminated raw milk, health officials say, and there is no easy way for the consumer to know whether the raw milk is contaminated.
"While it does happen occasionally, if you look at the numbers, the odds are just as low with raw milk as they are with just about any other place that you could potentially get food poisoning," St. Clair said.