NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A strain of E. coli that sickened nine children has been matched to animal waste collected at an East Tennessee dairy farm that sells raw milk, which state health officials say highlights the risks of drinking the unpasteurized product.
The Tennessee Department of Health issued a statement on Thursday following an on-site inspection of McBee Dairy Farm, laboratory analysis and interviews with close to 90 households that purchased milk from the farm near Knoxville.
Five of the nine children required hospitalization and three developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare disease that can cause bleeding in the kidneys.
The farm was shut down for about a week earlier this month during the inspections, but has since resumed operation.
“While people with stronger immune systems may be able to overcome the bacteria found in raw milk, children, older people, pregnant women and those with health conditions can be seriously harmed by bacteria in non-pasteurized milk products and should not consume them,” said Health Department Commissioner John Dreyzehner.
State Epidemiologist Tim Jones added those who drink raw milk are “playing Russian roulette with their health.”
“The glass they drink today may not have deadly microorganisms, but the one they drink tomorrow may cause serious health problems or even death,” he said.
Marcie McBee, an owner of the farm, told The Associated Press that during the shutdown state health officials informed the farm’s customers about the risks of drinking raw milk.
Despite the state’s position, she believes drinking unpasteurized milk is healthier, and said people should have the option to choose it.
“If you don’t want to drink raw milk, then don’t,” McBee said. “Nobody is making anybody drink it.”