This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A west Ogden dairy that caused a foodborne illness outbreak has had its license reinstated and it can once again sell raw milk to the public.
But health officials are still keeping an eye on the case involving the Ropelato Dairy, as the campylobacter or campy infection traced to its raw, unpasteurized milk likely contributed to the death of a man who had a compromised immune system, officials of the state Bureau of Epidemiology told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Of the 80 people sickened this summer, "20 percent were hospitalized and there was one fatality. However, that person had an underlying medical condition," state epidemiologist Cindy Burnett told members of the Legislature's Natural Resource, Agricultural and Environment Interim Committee.
People with medical conditions sometimes assume that raw milk is healthier, "when in fact it is unsafe," Burnett said after the presentation.
Health officials suggest that persons at highest risk of disease including young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have weakened or compromised immune systems should avoid raw or unpasteurized milk and raw milk dairy products that may contain disease-causing microorganisms.
Raw milk products also are required to carry a warning label with the information, something that "the dairy was not doing," Burnett said.
Pasteurization, or heating milk to high temperatures, kills campylobacter as well as other bacteria that cause foodborne illness, such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. These bacteria can cause mild to severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting.
Travis Waller, director of the Division of Regulatory Services, told lawmakers that people began experiencing these symptoms between May 9 and July 21. Some 45 people who tested positive for the campy bacteria told health department investigators that they had consumed the dairy's raw milk. Of those, 43 people lived in Cache, Davis, Morgan, Weber, Salt Lake and Utah counties and one each from Idaho and California. They ranged in age from 2 to 74.
"The outbreak continued over several months," Waller said. And while health officials suspected that the bacteria came from the dairy, "we did not have the smoking gun" to prove it. The state sought help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggested a different testing method. That proved successful and the UDAF suspended the Ropelato license on Aug. 4.
The license was reinstated on Oct. 3 "after the dairy was able to produce clean samples," said Waller.
Raw milk's popularity has grown in recent years as many people who are lactose intolerant say they are better able to digest raw milk because it contains the natural enzymes and beneficial bacteria usually killed during pasteurization. Others simply appreciate that it usually comes from cows that are grass fed and not given additional growth hormones to increase production.
Utah has eight raw milk dairies five, including Ropelato, that sell cow milk and three sell goat milk. The dairies are required to test their milk monthly for bacteria and pathogens, and animals must be tested before they are first milked and every six months after that, according to Utah law.
Several lawmakers, who grew up on farms and drank raw milk, said they didn't want this one incident to "spoil" the raw milk industry for the growing number of Utahns who want the product.
"I hope we can get a handle on this and not have to shut down the whole industry," said Rep. Michael E. Noel, R-Kanab. "There's a place for raw milk in this state."