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Washington suspends license of raw milk dairy linked to salmonella

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A strain of salmonella detected in raw milk from a Washington dairy was the same one that sickened two of the dairy’s customers in January

The Washington Department of Agriculture Friday suspended the processing license of a raw milk dairy, which had declined to voluntarily suspend production after the department detected salmonella last month in the dairy’s milk.

The suspension came a few hours after the state Health Department said it had linked the dairy to two cases of salmonella poisoning in January. Health officials advised the public against drinking milk from Pride & Joy Dairy in Toppenshish, echoing an earlier warning from WSDA.

The departments issued the health alerts because the dairy has said it planned to continue selling raw milk. “This is such a rare occurrence,” Health Department spokeswoman Liz Coleman said. “Anytime there’s a question, food producers usually recall their products.”

Pride & Joy can continue shipping milk to other processors for pasteurization, but it can no long bottle and distribute raw milk, according to WSDA.

Efforts to contact the dairy’s owners, Allen and Cheryl Voortman, for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

The Health Department said that two Pride & Joy customers who had been hospitalized in January were sickened by the same stain of salmonella as detected by WSDA in raw milk collected Sept. 18 from the dairy.

Health officials suspected in January that the dairy was the source of the salmonella, though follow-up tests failed to find that bacteria. WSDA did find E. coli, however, leading to a nearly three-month shutdown for Pride & Joy.

The dairy said last month it didn’t want another lengthy closure and refused WSDA’s request to recall milk and halt production pending an investigation into the source of the salmonella.

WSDA can’t order food makers to recall products or suspend production, but state law prohibits the distribution of impure milk. The department sent a notice to Pride & Joy on Oct. 5 warning that if laboratory tests continue to show pathogens in the dairy’s milk that the department could take additional action, including suspending the dairy’s processing license.

Tests on raw milk collected from the dairy Monday have not been completed, WSDA spokesman Hector Castro said Friday.

The two raw milk drinkers sickened by salmonella were hospitalized a week apart in Clark and Pierce counties. Health Department food-borne epidemiologist Beth Melius said that investigators at the time tried to trace the illness back to its source. “It was super frustrating for us,” she said.

The Health Department was able to go back and match the strain that sickened the two people with the strain detected recently by WSDA, she said.

The strain, Salmonella Dublin, has been on the rise in the U.S., according to a recent study posted by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Between 2005-13, some 78 percent of the people who were reported to be sickened by the strain were hospitalized and 4.2 percent died.

Cheryl Voortman told the Capital Press in an earlier interview that the dairy has about 100 milking cows and has been producing raw milk for nine years. The milk was being sold in about two dozen stores in Western and Eastern Washington, according to the dairy’s website, though most retailers had stopped selling it after WSDA issued its warning, she said.

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