Farm suspends raw-milk sales

(Daily Star, NY)

By Mark Boshnack


A Worcester farm has voluntarily suspended sales of all raw milk sold directly to consumers until subsequent sampling indicates the product is free of pathogens, according to a state media release.


Listeria monocytogenes was found at Autumn Valley Farm during routine testing from a sample taken by an inspector from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets on July 22, the release from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets said. The testing was done in the agency's food laboratory.


No illnesses have been traced to milk from the farm, officials said.


Sales can resume when testing shows the milk, which is unpasteurized, to be free from

bacteria, said Ag and Markets spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden. Testing is scheduled to be done this week, she said, and it can take 7-10 days for results.


Listeria, a bacteria commonly found in the environment, is one of six pathogens tested for in raw milk, Chittenden said. Products contaminated with it can cause listeriosis, a disease that can cause flu-like symptoms in healthy individuals and more serious conditions in immune-compromised individuals, according to the agency.


Autumn Valley is a "clean farm," she said, which points out the importance of pasteurization, she said. The process heats milk to destroy objectionable organisms without a major chemical alteration, according to the Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.


But there is a significant demand for raw milk, she said, because some people believe there could be health benefits to it.


There are 21 farms in the state with a raw milk permit. Guidelines are in place to help ensure public safety, she said, including routine state testing, posting signs alerting consumers to the risks and requiring sales to occur on the farm, where consumers can see the conditions.


Autumn Valley owner Darren McGrath said this is the second time in two years that sales have been halted for listeria. The previous halt last summer took about a month to be lifted. He said he was "skeptical" of the test results because he had part of the same sample tested by an Ithaca laboratory and the results were negative.


"The last thing I want to do is get anyone sick," he said.


But he contended that by running a clean operation, his cows produce healthy milk.


"People have drank raw milk for thousands of years, while pasteurization has only been around since the mid-1800s," he said.


He said he would not talk about his customer base because of business reasons, saying only that they were supportive of the farm during last year's stoppage.


The agency stands behind the test results for several reasons, Chittenden said, including following federal protocol in conducting the monthly routine sampling.


To date, no illnesses from milk sold by the farm are known to the agency, the release said.


"We have all the confidence in the world in the nationally renowned testing laboratory," she said. 8-05-08


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