Listeria outbreak in Pennsylvania milk prompts Ohio dairy concern

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COLUMBIANA, Ohio (WKBN) – After the Centers for Disease Control cited a Pennsylvania dairy farm as the reason for a Listeria outbreak, concern over milk safety grew.

Farmers in the Mahoning Valley sell $67 million of milk every year. Food safety is important, especially with money at stake.

Inspectors with the Ohio Department of Agriculture keep a close eye on the dairy farms. Everything from milk to manure comes under their jurisdiction.

“It has a whole set of rules associated with its production which are designed to have a steady, safe supply of milk,” said Dian Shoemaker of Ohio State University Extension, Dairy.

In Pennsylvania, the deadly outbreak was carried in raw milk. All milk in Ohio is pasteurized, meaning most bacteria are killed before it gets to the store.

Improperly handled milk can still make people sick, however.

The CDC says only six people in Ohio have become sick from contaminated milk in the last four years.

“We get inspected, especially here on the farm. It starts over at the parlor. We have our state guys come in and check over, make sure the equipment is nice and clean,” said Kasey Hudson of Baker’s Golden Dairy in New Waterford.

In Ohio, inspection reports are public record. First News went over those reports and found few violations.

Farms like Baker’s Golden Dairy are especially monitored. They bottle their own milk and sell it directly on the farm.

“We have, between the state and the county, about six different inspectors that oversee us,” Hudson said.

The dairy did have an isolated incident of higher than acceptable bacteria levels. They now make sure their milk collection system is completely cleaned. Pipes and vats are glass, which is easier to keep sterile. Cows are cleaned, too.

“You don’t want to stick the milker on a cow that might have sawdust or any bit of manure. We use iodine. You’re supposed to leave it on there for a few seconds and then wipe it off, that way it kind of sanitizes the teat and moisturizes the teat as well,” Hudson said.

Inspectors also watch for drug safety. Dairy cattle are not routinely treated with hormones or antibiotics. If cows are sick or have infections, the cow is treated but her milk is dumped. She is marked with a band to let workers know.

“No milk that leaves the farm and goes into the bottling manufacturing process has antibiotics in it,” Shoemakeer said.

Milk from several farms I often shipped on the same tanker truck. The milks gets mingled together.

To make sure the milk is drug free, samples are taken at the farm by delivery drivers. Then, at the bottling plant, samples are tested. If drug residue is found, the farmer who caused it is on the hook.

“The farmer who it’s determined had the contaminated milk, maybe a band fell off and somebody milked the cow inadvertently into the bulk tank, that farmer has to pay for that whole tanker truck full of milk,” Shoemaker said.

Those farmers also had their licenses suspended for several days.

Milk is shipped from every farm, every day. Out of all of those deliveries, only three samples tested positive for drugs last year.

Mercer County also has several dairy herds, but public records are more difficult to obtain in Pennsylvania. The records have not been examined by First News.

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