At least 56 people have become ill in the United Kingdom after drinking raw milk from a farm vending machine that had been contaminated with campylobacter bacteria, according to Daily Mail.
The unpasteurized milk comes from Low Sizergh Farm, near Kendal, Cumbria, which has been banned from selling any more milk until it identifies the source of the potentially deadly bacteria and eliminates it.
The outbreak was originally reported in mid-December, when six people were reported to have contracted food poisoning from drinking milk from the “trendy” dairy.
That number quickly grew to 56 people who are known to have become ill after drinking the milk, as at least 50 other customers have reported being sick after officials posted an online questionnaire about the outbreak.
Those affected range in age from 1- to 86-years-old.
The owner of the farm claimed to have no knowledge of the contamination, saying that the farm usually tests for other harmful bacteria but not campylobacter bacteria, which is responsible for approximately 100 deaths a year in the UK.
Farm owner Richard Park claimed to be cooperating with the investigation and said he had been “shocked” to discover his milk was contaminated with the bacteria, BBC News reports.
“For months I have been testing the milk and getting the right procedures in place,” Park said, “But campylobacter wasn’t one of the bacteria we were asked to test for so it came as rather a shock when I got the phone call.”
However, Food Safety News reports that Park admitted he was aware of the high levels of the bacteria back in September because of environmental sampling, and he continued selling raw milk from his farm. He also failed to disclosed the contamination to the Food Safety Agency, which is required by law.
Low Sizergh Farm was a recipient of several awards this year. In June, the farm’s milk helped it win “Taste Cumbria Retailer of the Year” at the Cumbria Tourism Awards. The farm also won a National Trust “fine farm produce award” for its raw milk in August.
The farm sells their award winning fresh milk from special dispensers at their Lake District store with the slogan “From Moo To You.” Before the outbreak, they sold about 70 liters of the raw milk per day.
Campylobacter bacteria is the most common cause of food poisoning. In adults, it can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea that can be bloody, and vomiting. One of the complications of a Campylobacter infection is Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can last for months. GBS can cause neurological damage and complete paralysis.
The FSA cautions that the bacteria is especially dangerous for young children, pregnant women and the elderly, in addition to people with compromised immune systems.
“Long-standing advice has been that vulnerable people — that’s older people, infants, children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems — are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning,” an FSA spokesperson said.
“That is why these groups should not be consuming raw drinking milk because it has not been heat treated.”
Campylobacter bacteria are usually found on raw or undercooked poultry and other meats, unpasteurized milk, and untreated water. The incubation period for campylobacter food poisoning is usually between two and five days, though it can take up to 10 days to develop symptoms.
Campylobacter outbreaks linked to raw milk have occurred in the United States in recent years in dairies in Pennsylvania, Alaska, Idaho, Ohio, and Colorado.
Some states and countries have outlawed the sale of raw milk because of health risks, but many people find ways to get around the law.
In Australia, it is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk for human consumption but farmers get around the law by labeling their raw milk “bath milk.” This had deadly consequences for one Australian toddler who died in 2014 after his father fed him organic unpasteurized milk that was purchased this way, according to Daily Mail.
The child’s father testified that he saw that Mountain View Farm’s Organic Bath Milk was labeled not for human consumption, but it was sold along with every other kind of dairy milk on the shelves. He said he only gave it to his son rarely and in small amounts, believing it had health benefits. Four other children were sickened in that outbreak, though the other children survived.
Anybody who has purchased the raw milk is advised to discard it and not consume it.
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