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Outbreak News

Milk producer cringes at the mention of E. Coli

December 16, 2005

The Columbian

Don Hamilton

Lorrie Conway held her breath this week when she set out the raw goat milk for her customers.

Conway and her family operate Conway Family Farms outside Camas. They are one of six dairies in Washington licensed to sell raw milk and they have a loyal clientele of 30 families who drink their raw goat milk, picking it up from a refrigerator.

But Tuesday morning the news was filled with reports of an E. coli outbreak traced to raw milk from Dee Creek Farms, not far away in Woodland. Conway worried how her customers would respond.

"I must admit I put some milk in the fridge on Tuesday for pickup and kind of held my breath, wondering if anybody was going to show," Conway said.

They did. All her regular pickups were made.

Conway's apprehension underscores the affects of the E. coli outbreak on raw-milk producers, many of whom haven't had problems. Dee Creek Farms may face legal problems, but other raw-milk producers face problems in public doubts about the safety of their product.

Conway Farms holds a raw-milk license from the state, the only such license holder in Southwest Washington. Dee Creek Farms does not.

So, Lorrie Conway got to work. First, she wrote a letter to the editor and sent it off to newspapers in the area, The Columbian, The Oregonian, the Camas Post-Record, the Longview Daily News and others. Then she sent copies of the letter along with a special note to her raw-milk customers explaining the precautions she takes in milk production.

"My sense of the people who buy milk from me is they've educated themselves, that they know the risks," she said. "It's always a concern. It would be devastating if someone got ill from drinking our milk; it would kill me."

She said raw-milk producers must follow the same safety rules as those making pasteurized milk. Under state regulations, raw milk must be chilled to 40 degrees within an hour of milking. Conway Family Farms keeps it a little cooler than that, just to be safe, she said.

Conway Family Farms received its raw-milk license only this year after a change in the state law. Before July 1, raw-milk producers goat milk or cow milk, it didn't matter which had to use an expensive automatic bottle capper. But the 2005 Legislature allowed the use of hand cappers under strict sanitary conditions, and Conway Family Farms was among the first applicants.

She thinks the state license tells customers that Conway has high standards.

"I felt like it was important to be proactive and get the message out," she said. "When you're a licensed dairy, as we are, we operate under a license that means we meet standards that ensure we sell a safe product."

Washington dairy farms licensed by the State Department of Agriculture to process and sell unpasteurized milk:

Our Lady of the Rock Monastery, Shaw Island.

Grace Harbor Farms, Inc., Custer.

Rainhaven, Duvall.

Garden Home Farm, Mount Vernon.

Conway Family Farm, Camas.

Estrella Family Creamery, Montesano.

More on this outbreak: Dee Creek Farm E. coli Outbreak

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