From Guest Poster Elaine Hirsch:
Causing Public Panic: The Oregon E.Coli Outbreak
For anyone getting a public administration degree, a serious outbreak of foodborne illness is somewhat of a worst nightmare. The panic, the uncertainty, and the heartache will be coupled with the demand for answers, which officials may not have, and the need for an action plan.
The recent Escherichia coli outbreak linked to raw milk from a Portland-area farm has affected a confirmed five children, and has sickened four more, Oregon health authorities report. The Oregon Public Health Division, a government agency, was first alerted to a potential E. coli outbreak April 13, when three children presented with E. coli-like symptoms at area hospitals. The outbreak was traced to raw milk distributed from Foundation Farm in Wilsonville. Authorities have ordered the destruction of all milk remaining on that farm, and have begun testing in barns and on nearby land for evidence of contamination. Anyone who has purchased the milk is advised to dispose of it immediately.
For now, the outbreak seems limited to milk sold by Foundation Farm. The farm owns four dairy cows, and sells milk to local residents through a limited “herd share” program. As such, the potential contamination base is relatively small.
“Milk from Foundation Farm and raw cow’s milk in general is not allowed to be sold in retail stores in Oregon,” Christine Stone, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority, said in an April 13 press release. “The dairy only distributed to 48 households that were part of a herd‐share, in which people contract to take ownership of a portion of a herd or individual animals.” The families are spread across Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties.
The Health Authority has made initial contact with each one, both to check up on health and to give information about identifying the signs and symptoms of an E. coli infection. As of April 17, the tally of confirmed infections rests at 5, all under 15 years of age. Three are currently hospitalized for acute kidney failure. Four more children and one adult who drank the Foundation Farm milk have severe gastrointestinal issues, though initial E. coli tests have come back negative.
Health Authority officials are hard at work uncovering the precise source of the infection. According to the Oregonian, all remaining milk has been confiscated, and officials have already collected a range of “environmental samples” from the dairy and surrounding 17-acre farm. “Those samples are now being tested for harmful bacteria by a lab outside Seattle that specializes in foodborne outbreaks,” the Oregonian said.
Raw milk from other sources is not currently under scrutiny, and continues to be distributed by separate farms in the area. Oregon’s Health Authority nevertheless warns that drinking raw, unpasteurized milk presents an unusually high risk of E. coli, no matter how clean or safe a dairy is.
“Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria that can make you very sick or kill you,” Katrina Hedberg, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division, told Portland’s KTVZ news. “Raw milk is not any healthier than pasteurized milk and can carry illness-causing bacteria.”
The raw milk E. coli outbreak comes just as the Oregon Agriculture Department launches a food safety training and education course designed specifically to educate on and limit E. coli contamination at small farms. A fatal strain of E. coli on strawberries sold throughout Oregon in the summer of 2011 caused significant heartache for farmers and consumers alike. The training and education course, which is offered in partnership with the state’s various berry commissions, runs April 17 to May 2 in various Oregon towns.
[Note: info on the food safety training session is available here: http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/Berry-safety-training-sessions-set-in-Oregon-146166785.html]