Salmonella Litigation

A resource for Salmonella Outbreak Legal Cases sponsored by Marler Clark

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Milk and cheese have been identified as the source of Salmonella outbreaks

Consuming raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products made from raw milk is an established risk factor for Salmonella infection. Salmonella and other pathogens are shed in the feces of livestock such as cows and goats and can contaminate milk during the milking process. Although practicing standard hygiene such as washing hands and keeping equipment clean can lower the potential for contamination, pasteurization is seen as the most effective treatment for reducing the number of Salmonella and other contaminants found in milk.

Laws regulating the sale of raw milk were passed in the early 20th century, and in what proved to be a major public health success in the United States, the percentage of all food and water-borne outbreaks attributable to milk products dropped from 25 percent in 1938 to about 1 percent by 2005. Today, it is a violation of federal law to sell raw milk packaged for consumer use across state lines (interstate commerce), but each state regulates the sale of raw milk within its own state lines (intrastate). Some states allow licensed or certified dairies to sell raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products; however, licensing or certifying dairies to sell raw milk does not guarantee that a safe product will be produced.

Because raw milk sales have not been outlawed altogether, outbreaks associated with raw milk continue to occur. There have been numerous documented outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter infections directly linked to the consumption of unpasteurized milk in the past 20 years. Between 1998 and 2005, a total of 45 outbreaks of foodborne illness were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in which unpasteurized milk or cheese suspected to have been made from raw milk was implicated.* In December 2005, following an outbreak that sickened at least nineteen people in Washington State, the FDA again publicly warned consumers to avoid drinking raw milk.**

The sale of raw milk is legal in Pennsylvania, provided vendors display public notices regarding the potential hazards of consuming raw milk and hold a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture permit. Nevertheless, in 2007 the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) investigated a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak among customers of a York County, Pennsylvania dairy that produces raw milk. Through an epidemiologic investigation PDA determined that 29 Salmonella cases were the result of consumption of raw milk from the dairy. In addition, PDA isolated a genetically indistinguishable strain of Salmonella Typhinurium from both case-patients and from raw milk samples drawn from the raw milk bulk tank at the dairy.***

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unpublished data, 2007. "Salmonella Typhimurium Infection Associated with Raw Milk and Cheese Consumption – Pennsylvania, 2007." JAMA. 2008;299(4):402-404.

**Food and Drug Administration. "FDA Warns Consumers to Avoid Drinking Raw Milk," FDA NEWS, December 16, 2005.

***Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Salmonella Typhimurium Infection Associated With Raw Milk and Cheese Consumption—Pennsylvania, 2007.” JAMA. 2008;299(4):402-404.