MINNEAPOLIS—Laboratory testing conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) this week provided additional evidence that the Hartmann dairy farm, of Gibbon, Minn., was the source of a strain of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that sickened at least five Minnesotans after they consumed raw, unpasteurized milk or other dairy products from the farm. MDH reported four cases of illness last week, and a fifth case has subsequently been confirmed in a young child who was not hospitalized.
The department conducted an investigation into the illnesses, which were scattered across the state, and found that the only thing the ill people had in common was consumption of dairy products from the Hartmann farm. The strong epidemiological link is now reinforced by the laboratory confirmation that the specific strain of E. coli O157:H7 found in the ill patients has also been found in multiple animals and at multiple sites on the Hartmann farm. This strain of E. coli has not previously been found in Minnesota. Furthermore, laboratory tests confirmed that cheese samples collected last week from the farm contained another form of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, demonstrating that an ongoing pathway of contamination existed on the farm.
“Raw milk presents a serious health risk,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan. “This risk isn’t a matter of personal opinion; it’s an established scientific fact. Drinking raw milk or eating products made from raw milk can expose consumers to a variety of organisms that can result in anything from a few days of diarrhea to kidney failure and death. Raw milk is especially dangerous for children, whose immune systems can’t fight off infection as well as healthy adults.”
In addition to the cases linked to the Hartmann farm, MDH is investigating several other illnesses with a connection to products from the farm. MDA has embargoed dairy products on the Hartmann farm, prohibiting movement or release of the products off the farm.
It is illegal to sell raw milk in Minnesota, although occasional sales are allowed on the farm where the milk is produced.