GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 31-year-old woman and a 6-year-old, from different West Michigan counties, contracted a strain of E. Coli after drinking raw milk from a cow share program.
According to a press release from the Kent County Health Department, the 31-year-old was from Muskegon County and the child was from Kent County. Sources tell 24 Hour News 8 the cow share program that the two drank milk from Green Pastures in Coopersville.
Both of these cases were reported in March and April of this year.
The owner of Green Pastures, Jesse Meerman, spoke to 24 Hour News 8 Friday and said his milk is safe.
“There’s a lot of people who really believe the bacteria that are killed by pasteurization are important in our diets,” said Meerman. When asked if anyone had ever gotten sick from drinking milk from his farm, Meerman replied, “there have been people getting sick, but again, we go back to the milk and the milk’s always tested negative, but it’s impossible to say.”
Meerman said his farm tests samples of milk monthly at a private lab in Grand Rapids. He claimed those tests have consistently come back negative.
“People get sick from time to time and they have to look at everything they’re eating, not just the milk,” said Meerman.
It is illegal to sell raw milk or raw milk products in the state of Michigan, but raw milk can be obtained through herd share programs.
In a herd share program, consumers purchase a share of a cow and are provided raw milk from the farmer as owner of the cow.
These herd share dairy programs are not licensed, regulated or inspected by state or local agencies.
“When we have two people, and both of them we have knowledge that they drank raw milk from the same cow share, that’s pretty strong evidence,” said Eric Pessell, the director of the Environmental Health Division at the Kent County Health Department.
Pessell said the health department does not have jurisdiction to go to the farm and take a sample of the milk.
Contamination of milk occurs when fecal matter is present on the udder of the animal or equipment used to process the product. The CDC reports that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illness, and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.
“When we know for a fact, there’s no getting around it, that milk that hasn’t gone through the pasteurization process may contain certain bacteria – bacteria that doesn’t just make you sick, bacteria that can make you lose your kidneys for the rest of your life – you’re gonna be on dialysis – I’m choosing pasteurization for my child hands down,” said Pessell.
He went on to say, “The analogy I can think of [is] to Russian roulette. You’re just waiting for something bad to happen, eventually it probably will.”
If you or someone you know has become sick in the days following consumption of a raw milk product, seek medical attention.
Symptoms of the illness include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain along with fever, headache, and body ache. Pregnant women, infants, small children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses should never consume raw milk products.