- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers don’t want a raw milk-related bacterial outbreak that sickened 80 people and contributed to one death to shut down the fledgling raw-milk industry.

The outbreak traced to unpasteurized milk from a Weber County dairy hospitalized about 20 people and played a part in the death of a man who had an unspecified underlying medical condition, health officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

Authorities urge consumers to be cautious with raw milk, which has not been pasteurized to remove potentially harmful bacteria. But its popularity has nevertheless grown in recent years among people who say they can digest the milk better because it contains beneficial microorganisms normally killed by the pasteurization process.

At a hearing Wednesday, several Utah legislators said they grew up on farms and drank raw milk, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1yHwodI).

“I hope we can get a handle on this and not have to shut down the whole industry,” said Michael Noel, a Republican from Kanab. “There’s a place for raw milk in this state.”

Regulators suspended the license of Ropelato Dairy after finding milk produced there was infected with campylobacter, which can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and other symptoms. People started reporting symptoms in May, and victims included people from Idaho and California.

“The outbreak continued over several months,” said Travis Waller, the director of the Division of Regulatory Services.

While health officials suspected the bacteria came from the dairy, they couldn’t prove it until calling in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which traced the outbreak using a new testing method. Ropelato’s license was suspended in early August, and it was reinstated this month after the dairy produced clean samples. The dairy’s owners did not immediately return a call seeking comment from the Associated Press.

There are eight raw-milk dairies in the state, five selling cow’s milk and three with goat’s milk. They’re required to test the product monthly, and animals must be tested before their first milking and every six months after.

Still, state epidemiologist Cindy Burnett told lawmakers that avoiding the pasteurization process can make raw milk unsafe, especially for people whose immune symptoms are already compromised.

Health officials say young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those who have weakened or compromised immune systems should avoid raw or unpasteurized milk or dairy products.

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