On December 12, 2005, the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Food Safety Program (FSP) was notified that the Washington Department of Health had received a report of a positive E. coli O157:H7 test in a patient from the Vancouver, Washington, area. WSDA FSP was further notified that the Clark County Health Department had determined that several E. coli cases had been caused by the consumption of raw milk produced by Dee Creek Farm in Woodland, Washington.
Prior to the December outbreak, WSDA had learned of Dee Creek Farm’s cow-share program, and had ordered the farm to cease the dispensing, giving, trading, or selling of milk or to meet requirements for selling milk that had been laid out by WSDA. The letter was sent in August, 2005, and WSDA received a response from Dee Creek Farm in September, 2005, stating that the farm was not selling milk but that the farm’s owners intended to meet requirements for a milk producer and retail raw milk processor in the future.
During the December investigation into the E. coli outbreak, WSDA noted several milk processing violations that would have been addressed during the licensing process had Dee Creek applied for the license. Among the violations were the following:
- No animal health testing documentation for brucellosis and tuberculosis or health permits
- Beef cattle contact with wild elk
- No water or waste water system available at milk barn for milking operations or cleaning
- No hand washing sinks available for cleaning and sanitizing
- No bacteriological test results available for the farm’s well-water system
- Mud/manure with standing water at the entrance to the milk barn parlor
- Milking bucket in direct contact with unclean surfaces during milk production
- Multiple instances providing for the opportunity for cross-contamination
- No separate milk processing area from domestic kitchen
- No raw milk warning label provided on containers
In addition, sample testing confirmed the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in two milk samples provided by Dee Creek Farm and in five environmental samples taken from Dee Creek Farm milk-barn areas by investigators.
When its investigation was completed, WSDA had identified eighteen people who had consumed raw milk purchased from Dee Creek Farm through the cow-share program and developed symptoms consistent with E. coli infection. Five Clark County, Washington, children were hospitalized, with two developing hemolytic uremic syndrome and requiring critical care and life support for kidney failure as a result of their E. coli infections.
Marler Clark represented two families in claims against Dee Creek Farm.