Microbiologist: Farm's raw milk contained E. coli

A supervisor for the Minnesota Agriculture Department testified yesterday Wednesday that raw milk cheese found on the Michael Hartmann farm is contaminated with E. coli.

Microbiologist Bryanne Shaw said tests found E. coli in at least two cheese samples produced on the Hartmann farm. Hartmann is the Gibbon area farmer linked to a raw milk E. coli outbreak. He's asking a court to lift a state ban on sales of his products.

The Hartmann side maintains the cheese is not dangerous.

The state is still trying to determine the exact strain of E. coli found in the cheese, but Shaw did testify it is not the most dangerous form of the bacteria, 0157 H:7. Still, Shaw said the E. coli found could make people sick.

Hartmann's attorney, Zenas Baer said the fact that state officials can not determine the exact E. coli strain makes their findings untrustworthy. The agriculture department alleges the farm is unsanitary, making the food suspect.

The judge presiding over the case has allowed a consumer group to call witnesses in support of dairy farmer Michael Hartmann.

Gary Wood, head of the group Consumer Free Choice, said his organization intervened in the case to persuade the judge to let customers buy Hartman products again.

"They were purchasing a lawful product, understanding that they had entered into a private agreement with Mr. Hartmann for the production of a healthy product," Wood said. "When the state executed the search warrant at the Hartmann farm, they essentially cut off the consumers from the product."

Wood said it's the first time he knows of that a consumer group intervened in a food safety case.

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