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Whittier Farms Pasteurized Milk Listeria Outbreak, 2007

In November 2007, a Massachusetts health officer reported that an 87-year-old man, John Powers, had tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. In the outbreak investigation that followed, it was determined that Mr. Powers and 4 others contracted Listeria from pasteurized milk produced by Whittier Farms. Mr. Powers consumed coffee-flavored milk which was later determined to be contaminated with Listeria.

Whittier Farms operated a milk product pasteurizing, bottling, and processing facility; the dairy had operated for nearly 50 years. Raw milk was transported by tanker truck to the Whittier Farms processing facility from the company’s own farm (with nearly 300 cows) and from another, independent farm located 25 miles away. Whittier Farms produced various milk and non-milk beverage products in glass and plastic bottles, including several varieties of flavored milk. Retail outlets were located at the dairy and the farm; however, the bulk of the dairy's milk products were sold through home delivery, and at various retail establishments in Massachusetts, including Shady Oaks Farm in Medway (the source of Mr. Powers' milk). The milk products were sold under the Whittier Farms name and other brand names.

Five patients had illness consistent with the case definition. The median age of the patients was 75 years old (range: 31 to 87 years); three were male. All five patients were hospitalized. All three of the males (75 to 87 years old), including Mr. Powers, died from sepsis attributed to Listeria, and died close to the time of their acute illness onset. The first case in a female was in a 31 year old woman who had chorioamnionitis at 36 weeks gestation. She delivered a healthy but premature infant. A subsequent placental culture tested positive for Listeria. The second case in a female was in a 34 year old woman who had a fever and abdominal pain. She experienced a stillbirth at 37 weeks gestation, and cultures of her blood, fetal blood, and placental tissue all were positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

The investigation found Listeria in samples taken from the dairy. Those samples matched the victims' cultures, as well as that in the milk. It turned out that Whittier Farms did not have an environmental monitoring program in place for Listeria monocytogenes. The dairy closed in February, 2008, citing inability to afford the safety upgrades that were needed.

Mr. Powers' family was represented by Marler Clark.

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