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Utah suspends Weber County dairy's license over foodborne illness

Published August 26, 2014 7:16 pm

Raw milk • 45 sick people connected to 'campy' outbreak so far.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A big outbreak of foodborne illness in northern Utah has been traced to a Weber County dairy that sells raw milk.

Forty-five of the 79 cases of campylobacter — campy for short — infection have been traced to the raw, unpasteurized milk, and health officials continue to investigate the rest. The bacterial infection causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food suspended the license of Ropelato Dairy, west of Ogden, to sell raw milk on Aug. 4, according to the department's Tuesday joint news release with the state health department.

The license had not been restored as of Tuesday, and agriculture department employees continue to work with the dairy to ensure there is no more contamination, Lewis said. The dairy will be able to resume sales once the milk consistently passes safety tests.

An employee who was not properly cleaning the cows' udders has been let go, Lewis said.

Cows also are being individually tested for the bacteria, he said. As of Tuesday, two had been taken out of the milking herd, he said.

The Ropelato Dairy also had its license suspended in the spring of 2010 after people were infected with campy bacteria.

The Ropelatos did not return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Pasteurization, or heating milk to high temperatures, kills bacteria that cause foodborne illness, such as campylobacter, salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. But raw milk and products that contain it, such as cream or queso fresco, can contain bacteria if not properly handled.

Utah has eight raw milk dairies — five, including Ropelato, sell cow milk and three sell goat milk, Lewis said.

The dairies are required to test their milk monthly for bacteria and pathogens, and animals must be tested before they are first milked and every six months after that, according to Utah law.

The campy infection was linked to the Ropelato Dairy because 45 people who tested positive for the illness told Utah health department investigators that they had consumed the dairy's raw milk.

Forty-three of them live in Cache, Davis, Morgan, Weber, Salt Lake and Utah counties, and one each are from Idaho and California. They range from ages 2 to 74.

The 45 said they began experiencing symptoms from May 9 to July 21.

The health department hasn't been able to contact, or could find no immediate link to the dairy, for the other 34 who tested positive for campy, said Kenneth Davis, a state epidemiologist. "We're digging deeper into these cases," he said.

The illness can last for up to a week or more and can be serious, especially for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have weakened or compromised immune systems, according to the state health department.

Some people experience no or few symptoms, but severe — and rare — cases can cause paralysis and death.

Rebecca Ward, an educator for the health department, said the outbreak is a reminder to raw milk consumers.

"Even if you have a government license, that's not going to guarantee the raw milk is bacteria-free," she said.

Raw milk should be kept in a refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, she said. "It can be easily contaminated."

Davis characterized the outbreak as big, since most foodborne illness outbreaks in Utah affect just a dozen or so people.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton