Tainted Milk Investigation Continues

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) is continuing its public health investigation of listeria contamination in milk products from Whittier Farms Dairy.
calendar icon 7 January 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

Whittier Farms operates a dairy farm in West Sutton, Massachusetts, as well as a dairy processing plant and retail outlets at the farm and in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. A source of contamination at the processing plant has not yet been identified.

Four cases of listeriosis infection have been identified by DPH. The cases occurred in June, October and two in November. The four cases involved three elderly individuals and a pregnant woman. Two elderly men have died as a result.

DNA fingerprinting conducted by the State Laboratory Institute showed that the bacteria causing these infections came from a common source. Whittier Farms milk product samples collected from a patient’s home and from Whittier Farms showed listeria contamination. The DNA fingerprints of the listeria found in the milk samples and in the patients were the same.

There have been no new cases of listeriosis confirmed as linked to this outbreak.

“State and federal regulatory health officials have initiated an environmental investigation at the facility that includes a thorough examination of the plant and its production equipment, as well as their pasteurization, packaging, cleaning and sanitization procedures. The state will also be conducting environmental and product testing for listeria before the dairy is allowed to begin operations again.” said Suzanne Condon, Director of MDPH’s Environmental Health Bureau.

Whittier Farms has voluntarily suspended operations and distribution until the source of contamination is identified and corrected. The company has contacted all known customers and distributors of its products and informed them about the situation. A public health advisory was released by MDPH on December 27 to warn non-home delivery customers who may have purchased products in retail outlets and retained them at home to discard these products immediately.

Whittier Farms sells milk products that are marketed under several brand names and in various flavors and sizes. Those brands are: Whittier, Schultz, Balance Rock, Spring Brook, Model Dairy and Maple. The milk products produced by Whittier include: whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim and heavy cream. The flavors of milk products include: low fat chocolate, coffee, strawberry, vanilla and eggnog.

All six brands receive glass bottled products from Whittier including various sizes of milk and cream. All products in glass bottles will have a specific brand name on the bottle, but a Whittier bottle cap.

Five of the brands — all but Balance Rock, which receives only glass bottled products, also get various sizes of plastic bottles of milk and cream products in various flavors and sizes. The public is urged to check for milk products under all six brands that they may have purchased recently and discard any remaining quantities immediately.

Listeriosis is a serious foodborne disease that can be life-threatening to certain individuals. While most cases of severe listeriosis occur in adults with weakened immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women and newborns, infections can occasionally occur in healthy individuals.

Symptoms of listeriosis include fever associated with muscle aches, fatigue, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramping or diarrhea. The illness may be mild in some people and symptoms are sometimes described as flu-like.

“Based on the evidence that we’ve collected thus far we believe the level of contamination is low and therefore presents a low risk to most people,” said MDPH Director of Communicable Disease Control Dr. Al DeMaria. “However, people who believe they may have consumed any of these products and develop fever with chills, muscle aches, a stiff neck, or abdominal discomfort, especially if they are elderly, medically compromised or pregnant, should contact their healthcare provider for advice and evaluation.”

About 2,500 cases of listeriosis occur each year in the United States. Twenty-two cases of listeriosis were reported to MDPH in Massachusetts in 2006.

Further Reading

       - Find out about Listeriosis in cattle by clicking here.

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