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Outbreak News

Woodland dairy blamed for E. coli

By Barbara LaBoe

Dec 12, 2005

The Daily News (Longview, WA)

Unpasteurized milk from a Woodland dairy has been linked to at least five cases of E coli in Clark County children -- just three months after state officials ordered the farm to stop selling "raw milk."

E. coli can be deadly and at least two of the children have been hospitalized with renal failure, according to Dr. Justin Denny, Clark County's health officer. A total of six cases have been reported since Friday, and officials have linked five of those to unpasteurized milk from the Dee Creek Farms in Woodland, Denny said.

The farm is located in Cowlitz County on Little Kalama River Road, but so far no cases have been reported here, said Sue Grinnell, director of the Cowlitz County Health Department.

Officials with the state Department of Agriculture have been notified as well, and plan to visit the farm Tuesday. Cowlitz County officials have been unable to reach the farm by telephone. Calls left by the Daily News also were not answered.

State officials could shut the farm down, seize its inventory and levy civil fines. But officials said their main concern is making sure anyone exposed to the milk sees a doctor if they have E. coli symptoms, particularly diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

The milk in question is not sold in grocery stores, but county officials still want all residents of the Lower Columbia region to be warned of the dangers. And, since they've been unable to link the sixth case to Dee Creek, they're warning people against drinking any unpasteurized milk.

"The reality is these things have risks," Denny said. "Milk is pasteurized for a reason."

Dee Creek Farms has been on the Department of Agriculture's "radar" since August, when the Portland Tribune ran an article about the growing popularity of unpasteurized or "raw" milk, said Claudia Coles. Coles is manager of the food safety program for the state Department of Agriculture.

The farm is owned by Michael and Anita Puckett, according to state records, and Anita Puckett was interviewed in the Portland article, saying they already had sold 40 milk "shares." Raw milk is often sold in "shares" as in shares of a cow.

Raw milk may be gaining in popularity nationwide, but it's illegal in Washington unless properly licensed and labeled as potentially harmful, Coles said. The Pucketts are not licensed, she said.

Coles warned the Pucketts in August that selling the milk in shares did not absolve them from getting the proper licenses and inspections. The couple responded in a Sept. 1 letter that they do not sell raw milk, Coles said Monday night.

Since Clark County has traced the E. coli cases to Dee Creek, Coles plans to send officials to the farm Tuesday to investigate.

"But our main concern is the possibility that we'll have more people fall ill from this consumption -- especially since they've possibly sold to 40 families," Coles said. "The most important thing at this point is to advise the consuming public."

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

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