A southern Minnesota dairy farm fired back today at allegations that its unpasteurized milk was linked to a recent E. coli outbreak.
In a statement, the Hartmann Dairy Farm stressed that a Department of Health investigation did not turn up any E. coli-tainted milk.
"As of today, there is no evidence of any harmful bacteria in any raw milk, cheese, meat or other product sampled from the Hartmann Farm," the statement said. "The State has engaged in a serious regulatory and potentially criminal action in a grossly negligent manner with total disregard for the defamatory content of their media campaign."
Five people have fallen ill after consuming raw, unpasteurized milk or other dairy products from the farm in rural Gibbon. Three of the five victims were hospitalized and released.
In a statement released June 3, the department said that E. coli was found in several animals and at several sites at the Hartmann Farm. The strain of E. coli matches that found in the people who fell ill, the statement said.
The Department of Health has said that the E. coli outbreak showcases the dangers of drinking unpasteurized milk.
"Raw milk presents a serious health risk," Minnesota Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said in a statement released June 3. "This risk isn't a matter of personal opinion; it's an established scientific fact."
But the Hartmann Dairy Farm argues that the detailed results of the state's testing show that the E. coli found at the farm did not pose any risk to humans.
Instead, they said inspectors found the bacteria in seven samples of manure from animals that had not been milked, two samples of cheese that have not been found to match the strain that caused sickness, and one sample from a bucket of clean-up rinse water.
The E. coli found in the cheese did not pose a threat to human health, according to farm officials. "As everyone knows, cheese is intentionally cultured with bacteria to create the product and until a specific strain is identified there is no evidence of contamination," the statement said.
Department of Health spokesperson Doug Schultz said that the investigation's failure to find E. coli-tainted products does not mean that the contamination did not occur. He said that inspectors collected the product samples one week to several weeks after the production of the products that allegedly made people sick. As a result, Schultz said, inspectors may never find the bacteria in the farm's products.
"Standard public health practice does not require finding the illness strain of pathogen in either environmental or product samples in order to determine the source of an outbreak...," he said via email.
The farm's owner first learned of the test results on June 5, when the state served a motion to condemn and destroy the farm's natural food, the farm's statement said. The state had previously embargoed dairy products from leaving the farm.
Inspectors will continue to investigate the outbreak, Schultz said.