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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Minnesota Links Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium illnesses to Hartmann Dairy

Minnesota state health officials reported today that routine disease surveillance has detected additional illnesses linked to consumption of raw dairy products from the Hartmann dairy farm in Sibley County.

20100819_hartmanndairybarn_33.jpgAccording to epidemiologists with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the illnesses include three people infected with a bacterium called Campylobacter jejuni, and four people infected with a parasite called Cryptosporidium parvum. Common symptoms of Campylobacter infection include fever, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, malaise, and vomiting. Symptoms last for about a week in most people but can last for up to three weeks in 20 percent of cases. In addition, Campylobacter infection occasionally results in complications such as arthritis and Guillain Barré syndrome, which is characterized by sudden onset of paralysis. Cryptosporidium infection is marked by watery diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Symptoms often last two weeks but may wax and wane for a month or more. Cryptosporidium infection can be life threatening in people with weakened immune systems.

These illnesses were reported to MDH by health care providers as required under Minnesota law. When MDH contacted the individuals to inquire about potential causes of their illnesses (a routine public health practice designed to identify likely causes of illness in order to prevent future illnesses) the ill people reported that they had consumed raw milk. Those who named a source named the Hartmann farm. Laboratory tests found that the Campylobacter bacteria and Cryptosporidium parasites in most of the ill people were genetically identical to organisms found in animal and environmental samples taken on the Hartmann farm this past summer.

Hartmann’s farm was implicated as the source of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections in May and June. As a part of this earlier illness outbreak, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) ordered Hartmann to stop selling milk until he addressed the unsanitary conditions on his farm. MDA also directed him to comply with the state law that allows for the sale of unpasteurized milk only on the farm at which the milk was produced. It is not clear how the seven new ill people acquired the product.

  • Doc Mudd

    One must conclude “know your farmer” , as a food safety concept, doesn’t work worth beans.
    If we don’t know this Hartmann character after more than a decade of citations for unsanitatary practices, loss of his permit to ship grade A milk, and several unique food poisonings, then it isn’t possible to “know” much of anything. Looks like he’s still exposing people to tainted product from his nationally notorious pigsty. Completely irrational & irresponsible. Dirty, nasty, nasty, nasty.
    Lock the dirty buggerer away this time, please. Perhaps he can make license plates without harming anyone. At any rate, it’s time to end this bizarre naturally occurring epidemiology experiment in Sibley County, Minnesota – we’ve learned what we need to know and it’s inhumane to continue infecting human subjects, however deluded and willing they may be.

  • Doc Mudd,

    Those are very harsh statements.

    I would much rather suggest a better set of standards for raw milk production. In CA raw milk is widely sold in more than 400 retail stores and consumed by about 50,000 people each week.

    What happened at Hartmans…is a direct result of not having a good set of standards and not testing or using a FOOD SAFETY program or plan.

    In CA we have not found a pathogen in our retail inpected ( from either Claravale or OPDC ) and tested raw milk in forever….83 years…1927.

    People need raw milk to build their immune systems and if they are lactose intolerant. People also need a government that allows the setting of decent standards so that responsible producers can feed those people. Denial creates illness and the government must shoulder much of this blame.

    Mark McAfee
    Founder OPDC
    Fresno CA

  • Helen

    Doc Mudd,

    Read carefully between the lines of any statement. The most important information may be what is missing.

    “Implicated, ” is not the same as convicted, or even responsible. Minnesota Depts. of Ag. & Health found no contamination in milk samples taken from Hartmann’s farm.

    To quote a children’s book title, “Everyone Poops,” is it any wonder that bacteria were found in manure? ANY manure? If a cow poops, will it contain bacteria? Certainly. The milk, however, did not.

    The State Department of Health’s sworn testimony to Judge Rex Stacy that 266 tests performed on Hartmann dairy products failed to demonstrate a single positive test of e.coli O157:H7. The judge heard the testimony that even if sick people have the same bacteria present in their feces as found in cow feces, there is no evidence that any dairy product was the conduit for those illnesses. Further, products were also tested for campylobacter, listeria, and salmonella and no bacteria was found. While there are no specific tests in evidence for cryptosporidium it appears it would have been detected if it was present. No further tests have been performed, to link the recent illnesses to the Hartmanns.

    The customers of this tiny farm drive hours to purchase their milk on the farm. Given this determined effort to legally obtain food they seek, it seems unlikely that any one of them would have pointed to their dairy. I say fowl – that someone made up the charge.

    I am not a customer of Hartmann’s dairy. I have never visited Gibbon, MN, where the farm is situated, and I am in no way related to the Hartmann family. I am acutely aware of injustices and misleading information.

    Get your head out of the Mudd, and let the sunshine on facts, not allegations.

  • Helen, in 18 years of doing food cases – most against large corporations not small raw milk farmers – there is generally seldom food products or in-plant or on-farm tests that match ill people. That does not mean the outbreak and illnesses are not linked. Health officials look for a common food item and/or place where the ill are connected. Minnesota Department of Health – the best, or one of the best Health Departments in the country – made the determination that these Campy and Crypto illnesses are linked to Hartmann’s farm raw milk.

  • Helen

    Bill, I applaud efforts to reform the enormous factories where workers and animals (and any foods) are handled in an inhumane and unclean manner. The best action consumers can take is to vote with their pocket books. Governments don’t listen unless there is money involved, and corporations lead them.

    In four years of drinking raw milk on two continents, I have found my health to improve, not degenerate. The majority of my life, I was lactose intolerant because of food-factory processes inherent in large-corporate facilities. I wish someone could fix my digestion, but a lawsuit on my behalf will not repair my gut. It might keep you employed, and surely we do not need another unskilled laborer on the dole. Clearly, you must go out and find your work, but try to keep in mind that the small farmers are not a good place for you to go hunting!

    IF a farm produces tainted milk, it would have sicken all the customers, not a few. That is not an implication. Corollation does not equal causation.

  • Troy

    Bill, your reply to Helen strikes me as BS. Here’s how: as a personal injury and product liability lawyer, you should know better than most just how often such “statements” by “officials” (such as this one from the Mn Dept. of Health) are wrong, intentionally misleading and/or monetarily motivated. I’d wager you’ve spent significant time in court proving just that kind of thing to help win your cases.

    The fact that tests seldom prove the connection (I assume that’s what you meant by your perhaps typographical-error infected sentence, and am willing to stipulate the statement is true as you made it for the sake of argument) hardly helps this case. The Mn. Dept. of Health has spent the summer smearing the Hartmanns with the willing complicity of a media always hungry for a hysteria-inducing story, truth be damned.

    The reality is there is less evidence for Hartmanns’ products causing all of the accused illnesses than there is for lots of other questionable medical claims, e.g. immunizations in children causing autism, GMO foods causing cancer, pick your favorite fringe speculation here.

    Moreover, there is plenty of far better evidence that people get sick from food-borne illnesses every day from “approved” commercial and industrial food production, and yet little to nothing is done — or reported — about those situations. Hartmanns have been closed down and embargoed for months for wildly speculative accusations (and more likely the result of a Mn. Dept. of Health vendetta for having LOST a court case to the Hartmanns years ago); meanwhile the Iowa-based, industrial, fully-regulated and approved multi-state egg operation that sickened hundreds of people with salmonella contamination was not closed down for even a single day.

    Pardon me while I laugh all the way to the bank. Oh wait, I’m not profiting on this situation; only the large industrial produces and ambulance-chasing attorneys are making a buck, while the rest of us suffer degraded health and environmental damage.

    For a guy who makes a buck fighting the establishment, that was sure a statement right out of the establishment’s propaganda book.

  • Troy, I have been called much worse – mostly by the folks at Cargill, Jack-in-the-Box, Con Agra, etc. MDOH has figured out more nationwide outbreaks in the last several years than most states combined. They have been at the forefront of Epi work in those outbreaks linked to some of the large-scale manufacturer’s and farms – PCA and Wright County to name a few. They are very good at what they do.

  • Doc Mudd

    No need for hypothetical if’s, and’s or but’s in this discussion – the epidemiologic study of Hartmann’s all-natural, certified organic germ factory is exquisite, a masterpiece by the MDH. They have produced DNA evidence for the e coli that is virtually irrefutable, and they claim to have similar genetic typing for the Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium. Hartmann is caught red handed – no lame excuses, no blaming the government, no conspiracies.
    You may want to refer to an earlier Food Safety News report discussing the e coli DNA study:
    The true importance of the e coli DNA evidence is the epidemiologic reality that “all-natural, organic” agriculture can and does generate and sustain unique pathogens. The MDH findings conclude that Hartmann’s home-brewed strain of e coli had never before been seen in Minnesota! So much for silly dangerous claIms that unprocessed, all-natural and/or organic methods are uniquely ‘healthy’, that they are somehow magically free of disease risk.
    Sustained filthy conditions, sustained germ development, sustained exposure of humans to the pathogens, sustained incidence of food poisoning from the quaint bucolic Hartmann germ incubator. Kinda’ brings the true definition of “sustainable” into clear focus, doesn’t it?

  • Helen

    Doc Mudd,

    You use the nasty, fevered style of yellow journalism. I cannot know your personal agenda, but can guess that you stand to gain something from kicking around a VERY small dairy farm.


    The State Department of Health’s sworn testimony to Judge Rex Stacy that 266 tests performed on Hartmann dairy products failed to demonstrate a single positive test of e.coli O157:H7. The judge heard the testimony that even if sick people have the same bacteria present in their feces as found in cow feces, there is no evidence that any dairy product was the conduit for those illnesses. Further, products were also tested for campylobacter, listeria, and salmonella and no bacteria was found.

    Go look up the court documents for yourself.

    Another fact: Only one family got sick most recently…what about all the other customers?

  • Doc Mudd

    Oh, oh. Helen sez reality is giving her a yellow fever…and I’m causing it by harping on the the science. Too bad, Helen. I don’t care any more for your emotional discomfort with reality than you apparently care for the “one family” that was most recently sickened by Hartmann.
    The absolute lack of concern for public safety is nothing short of amazing. Kinda’ cruel, too.

  • Helen

    Science is a wonderful tool to help us understand our world better. Any tool can be used well or poorly. Generally, scientists use their tools well, albeit with tightly defined parameters. When non-scientists “harp” on test results, implying more than the test was intended for or capable of showing, we have a divergence of purpose and meaning.
    I am highly concerned for the health of the public. People who focus their attacks on small farmers are a problem for us all. Far more harm is done to more people by immense food factories than small farms have ever done. When a state “cracks down” on a small farmer/producer, yet leaves larger food industries unchecked, we have corruption as well as illness breeding in our country.
    My greatest concern is for people other than myself, as I have access to clean, locally-produced foods at an easy distance from my home. Far too many people have become reliant on a few warehouses where the choices are limited to highly processed foodstuffs. These people run greater risks of becoming ill from the foods they eat, whether contaminated with bacteria or simply because there is so little food value remaining in the products.
    How many people have died because of the, “Completely irrational & irresponsible,” government handling of the peanut butter factories? “Dirty, nasty, nasty, nasty.” How about lettuce? Green onions, or eggs? Any one of these is a bigger problem than all the raw milk farmers in the country, responsible as well as any irresponsible ones.
    Doc Mudd, you don’t get my ire up, so feel free to focus your energy on something productive!

  • mark mcafee

    Dear Marler Bloggers,
    I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mike Hartman this last weekend in St. Paul Minnesota January 28th 2011.
    Minnesota has a very rare law in its constitution that allows a farmer to peddle anything that is 100% made on his farm to any willing customer.
    Mike is really stuck in a bogged down battle based on this fundamental conflict of control over this issue of law in the Minnesota constitution. I am not sure how or if it will get resolved because of this imbedded conflict. I would much prefer that Mike join with the regulators and his consumers and establish a dialogue, make some peace and move beyond trench warfare. He would be happier and his business would be stronger.
    I also suggested to him that he embrace a food safety plan that would help him address any of the issues that the state of Minnesota has with him.
    We will see what happens. He is a very bright and proud American that is loved by many of his consumers. There are two sides to every story. Being bogged down in strife does one thing… it uses up the soul and makes you poor and old.

  • Thanks Mark – I appreciate that you are reaching out to farmers. I think Mr. Hatmann may well be correct on his constitutional argument as it comes to his right “peddle.” However, the problem he is facing now is that after sickening 15 people, he destroyed or sold product in violation of a Court order. Court’s tend not to like that very much. I guess the snow saved him today from having to explain to the Court where was the beef, cheese, etc.