50 people sick, but milk not to blame: Salmonella linked to Young’s Dairy

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SALEM, Ohio – While the number of salmonella cases linked to Young’s Jersey Dairy in southern Ohio continues to increase, health officials are scrambling to determine if there is a link to Ross or Columbiana counties.

Both counties had outbreaks of the same strain of bacteria last year.

As of Jan. 13, there were 52 confirmed cases of salmonella traced to Young’s Jersey Dairy in Clark County, Ohio, and are due to human contamination.

Milk not to blame. A batch of milk from Nov. 29 was originally blamed for the outbreak, however further investigation revealed that the strain did not originate on the farm.

The outbreak is most likely due to poor hygiene, said Charles Patterson, health commissioner of Clark County Combined Health District. It is suspected that an employee became infected with the bacteria and then cross contaminated the milk.

The dairy herd tested negative for salmonella, as did the rest of the milk.

Salmonella is a bacteria passed through uncooked meat, raw eggs and poor hygiene. It causes vomiting, diarrhea, chills and nausea.

All tests as of Jan. 13 confirm that this salmonella strain has the same DNA markers of strains found in Ross and Columbiana counties earlier this year.

The Ohio Department of Health cautions that it cannot be limited to just those two counties. Spokesman Kristopher Weiss reports that Ohio had eight “sporadic cases” of the same strain in 2001 and 2002.

Mystery. The piece of the puzzle that is missing, and one that may never be found, is how the bacteria made its way to Young’s.

Because people infected with salmonella may not show signs, it is possible for them to carry and spread the bacteria without being sick themselves.

The bacteria may have traveled through 20 counties before it made its way to Young’s, Patterson said.

Public health officials continue to investigate where the employees ate, who they saw and where they traveled – all in an effort to find a link to another county with the same strain.

Likelihood. Because the strain is uncommon in Ohio, Patterson says that it’s likely that the salmonella originated from the outbreaks in Ross and Columbiana counties.

As recently as mid-December, a person in Columbiana County was still testing positive for salmonella, which had been found in September, Patterson said.

Columbiana County General Health District spokesman Barb Knee, however, reports that it is unlikely that the bacteria originated in Columbiana County because the two cases of salmonella were in people who are not among the general public.

Raw milk. The initial fear that the salmonella was due to the milk being unpasteurized is an image that will be difficult for customers to shake.

Raw milk is already controversial.

Government officials say it is illegal because it has the potential to carry diseases such as tuberculosis.

On the flip side, raw milk activists say pasteurization, the heating process intended to kill germs, also kills essential vitamins, destroys enzymes and promotes pathogens.

Although it is illegal to sell raw milk in Ohio, Young’s Jersey Dairy fell under the grandfather clause and is the only farm in Ohio legally allowed to sell raw milk. Young’s is located in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

No difference. In this case, pasteurization may not have made a difference, Patterson said. It isn’t clear what stage in production the salmonella entered the milk, so it is possible that it entered at a point after pasteurization would have taken place.

Cross contamination can infect even pasteurized milk, he said.

Employees. Sixteen employees have tested positive for salmonella and were all linked to drinking the milk. In addition to customers who tested positive, the other positive tests are from secondary contact.

The 16 employees have been given duties outside food handling and will not be able to go back to those positions until after they test negative in two stool samples taken 24 hours apart.

Young’s Jersey Dairy is also giving employees a refresher course on food handling and certifying more employees with ServSafe, a food safety program.

Indiana link. Although the suspect milk was from Nov. 29, it took 12 days before the dairy learned there was a problem.

A customer from western Indiana provided the first link to salmonella. After being sick, the customer froze the raw skim milk purchased at Young’s.

It was later determined that there was one batch of contaminated milk, which included whole milk, skim milk and cream, Patterson said. Although the milk was packaged Nov. 29, it was not necessarily sold on that date.

The batch of milk came from a bulk tank holding 70-80 gallons of milk, Patterson said.

Decisions. Despite the negative effect the outbreak has had on Young’s business, customers are calling to say they still want raw milk, said Dan Young, the dairy’s chief executive officer.

In compliance with the health department’s request, Young’s pulled all of its raw milk from the shelves Dec. 13 and has switched to selling pasteurized milk. The dairy has made no decisions about whether it will continue selling raw milk in the future.

“We’ve served 20 million customers in 50 years without any problems,” Young said.

He hopes this positive 50-year reputation pulls them through this rocky time.

Nevertheless, Clark County Combined Health District has already been contacted about a possible lawsuit against Young’s Jersey Dairy, stemming from a customer with salmonella.

Patterson said the raw milk’s packaging had warning labels indicating unpasteurized milk may contain harmful pathogens.

Getting sick. In addition to being contracted through uncooked meat and unsanitary hygiene, salmonella can also spread through raw eggs and intimate person-to-person contact.

The bacteria is spread through a fecal-to-oral route.

Bacteria can live on an inanimate object, such as a faucet, for several minutes to a couple of hours, Patterson said.

Finding a link. The county health department is continuing to look for a link between Young’s and the source of the bacteria.

In the meantime, Patterson said people are being tested and retested and monitored.

“It may be overkill, but we want to err on the side of caution,” he said. “We want to be sure it’s safe to eat at Young’s.”

Previous problems? Although Young’s has been cited for minor infractions during past state inspections, none of them is out of the ordinary. They basically have a clean record, said Melanie Wilt, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesperson.

(You can contact Kristy Hebert at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)


Related links:

Young’s Jersey Dairy – www.youngsdairy.com

Salmonella link – www.salmonella.org

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