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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Listeria Contamination in Raw Milk at Breese Hollow Dairy

From A New York State Agriculture Press Release:

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker today warned consumers in the Hoosick Falls, New York area not to consume “unpasteurized” raw farm milk from Breese Hollow Dairy due to possible Listeria contamination.

Breese Hollow Dairy, located at 454 Breese Hollow Road, Hoosick Falls, New York 12090 holds a Department permit to legally sell raw milk at the farm. Samples are taken monthly and tested by the Department to determine if the raw milk is free of pathogenic bacteria.

A routine sample of the milk, taken by an inspector from the Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services on May 26, 2009, was subsequently tested by the Department’s Food Laboratory and discovered to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. On May 29, 2009, the producer was notified of a preliminary positive test result and volunteered to suspend raw milk sales until the sample results were confirmed. Test results were confirmed on June 3, 2009 and the producer is prohibited from selling raw milk until subsequent sampling indicates that the product is free of pathogens.

  • Ah, you finally have a story from my neck of the woods – this one is about 5 miles down the road. From what I’ve read tonight, I actually see this as one where the system works – the bacteria were identified during routine inspection, and because the farm knows their customers, they were able to notify them proactively. They also immediately sent a press release to the local paper – a far cry from the obfuscation we’ve seen from some of the bigger companies in recent recalls.
    It’s funny – this incident would actually give me more confidence, not less, in this particular farm.
    Also, I saw your other post on this. I’d be shocked if anyone’s paying $12 per gallon in this neck of the woods. In a nearby (far weathier) town, a dairy charges $6/gallon for raw milk. The customer base is pretty small — Breese Hollow apparently has 40 or 50 regular customers. Even if each of those customers bought a gallon every three days without fail, that would be only, what, $3,000/month? Hardly seems like anyone would be getting rich on raw milk. Not in these parts, anyway.
    Anyhow, thanks for the news.

  • Catherine

    I agree with Ali. I live in CT, and drink raw milk in the summer, which I buy from the stand. I would not, however, be buying and drinking it if it wasn’t overseen by the state, with regular tests. We know enough now about contamination to be able to have safe supplies of raw milk. The problem comes when it is sold ‘under the table’ because it becomes a fad, in states where it isn’t legislated at all.

  • Catherine – Frankly, most, but not all, the cases involving illness have occurred in States that oversee and regulate raw milk sales.

  • Worth noting that this is the fourth time in last couple years this farm has been identified as having a “listeria problem.” Not a single customer has even felt ill. About a half dozen other raw dairies have been found by NY Ag and Markets to have similar listeria problems over the last three years. Not a single illness from any of these as well. The problem seems to be that federal and state standards regarding what is considered listeria contamination are inappropriate. Listeria is fairly common, and it takes many more listeria monocytogenes bacteria to create illness than NY allows.

  • Four Times? David, what is the NY standard for L. monocytogenes? Here is what I found on infectious dose:
    The infective dose of L. monocytogenes is unknown but is believed to vary with the strain and susceptibility of the victim. From cases contracted through raw or supposedly pasteurized milk, it is safe to assume that in susceptible persons, fewer than 1,000 total organisms may cause disease. L. monocytogenes may invade the gastrointestinal epithelium.

  • Marymary

    Mr. Marler makes an excellent point. No amount of state oversight is going to remove the listeria, E.coli, campylobacter, etc. from raw milk. I don’t know for certain if this happens or not, but unless every batch of raw milk is being tested for multiple contaminants, you are taking a substantial risk of illness by consuming it. Warning labels, occasional tests of the product, and checking to see if the dairy appears to be clean are not adequate protections against foodborne illness.
    Also, confirmation of customers becoming ill is not necessarily an indication that there were no illnesses from listeria or any other bacterial or viral contaminant in raw milk or any other food/beverage. Some people may have had mild symptoms, not associated the illnesses with consumption of raw milk, and thus would have never had the source of their illnesses confirmed . Sometimes the product that is known to be contaminated is pulled from distribution before consumers have a chance to eat/drink it.

  • David – the above quote on the infectious dose came from FDA. Here is what USDA/FSIS says:
    “FSIS has always had a zero tolerance (no detectable level permitted) for L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat products such as hot dogs and luncheon meats,…”
    Seems that there should be zero tolerance for L. monocytogenes (a fecal bacteria) in raw milk as well?

  • Michele

    You say, “Not a single customer has even felt ill.” This suggests that the regulatory system is working and the recalls were successful. One explanation for no illnesses is that product was removed from sale before customers consumed it, thus preventing them from exposure to the pathogen. Are you suggesting that the farmer and state should have continued selling the milk after finding a positive Listeria test, and only do a recall after illnesses are linked to the milk? Hmm.
    All that said, Listeria monocytogenes regulatory limits (zero tolerance) for ready-to-eat and other foods, not just raw milk, have been a source of controversy for years:

  • As Michele notes, there has been much debate at FDA over the zero tolerance. To quote from the document she links to:
    “To sum up: depending on changes in prevalence, a change from ‘zero tolerance’ to 100 CFU/g is expected to result in a decrease in listeriosis between 50% and 99.5%. The ASM finds the logic, reasoning and statistical techniques used to derive these conclusions to be sound and based on the best currently available science, and suggest that a change to the tolerance will result in a net public health benefit, even under the most conservative assumptions.”
    And just to clarify, the milk in the Breese Hollow case and other NY listeria cases has invariably been consumed by the time the testing is completed and consumers warned. And they are usually most upset that production is shut down and they can’t obtain additional milk.

  • I did some investigation, and it turns out there is much more to this situation than the NY Ag & Markets press release quoted here would have you believe. A private test of milk from the same bulk tank showed no listeria. Inspectors visited the dairy for samples while the farmer was meeting with top Ag & Market officials. More at:

  • Marymary

    @David: I’m not an epidemiologist by any means, so perhaps someone else should weigh in here. It is my (limited) understanding that repeat tests of milk batches may show varying levels of bacterial contamination from day to day, at least with E.coli, and presumably for listeria, as well. Cows will shed bacteria at varying rates and of varying strains from day to day. No listeria today doesn’t necessarily mean that there was no listeria yesterday and it doesn’t mean that there will be no listeria tomorrow.
    I’m happy that your family and friends did not become ill from consuming raw milk. Other people could have become ill, however, if there had been no investigation and intervention at the dairy.
    If you are an adult and like raw milk, you certainly have the choice to consume it if it is legally available in your state. You should realize, however, that there are serious, real health risks with consuming the product. I can tell you from my own experience, state and local food inspectors are simply trying to protect the public. They are not working on behalf of agribusiness to put small food operations out of business. They are not conspiring to make raw milk dairies look bad. They are just trying to do their jobs, usually at relatively low pay and with little appreciation from the public.

  • JimBeam

    Hay David,
    Lets look at this another way. A test done on a sample taken by the milk producer has more validity in your eyes then the test done on the sample taken by the state?
    Sounds to me like a milk producer shopping around for sample results that fit their needs….how do we know the milk in that sample wasn’t doctored….why should anyone put any stock in a sample taken by the producer???

  • Sometimes the product that is known to be contaminated is pulled from distribution before consumers have a chance to eat/drink it?

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