Listeria Outbreak Closes Whittier Farms for Good

Whittier Farms—the mom and pop dairy linked to listeriosis deaths that was forced to suspend bottling— will not reopen the dairy that made the <"">listeria tainted milk..  Although Whittier Farms is selling milk in its store on Douglas Road, the milk does not come from the dairy’s farm.  Previously, Whittier milk was sold under the names Whittier, Schultz, Balance Rock, Spring Brook, and Maple.

Listeriosis is a type of food poisoning dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, and those with chronic medical conditions.  Most people experience only mild flu like symptoms—fever, muscle aches, nausea, or diarrhea.  In serious cases, the disease spreads to the nervous system, causing headaches, stiff neck, and convulsions.  Listeria lives in soil and water and can easily contaminate dairy and beef products; because listeria thrives in cold, milk is an ideal environment.

Wayne Whittier, one of the farm’s owners, said the family made a difficult decision this week in deciding to keep the production plant and Shrewsbury store closed, saying:  “The milk production and bottling plant, it won’t be a place where Whittier Farms will operate again.” Whittier added that the family hasn’t decided if it will resume production elsewhere, but stated recipes for Whittier specialties are being kept in a safe place.  The Whittiers have about 330 cows, milking 130 cows daily and producing about 1,000 gallons of milk daily.  Whittier said the raw milk is being sold to a different processor.

The state Department of Public Health said four people became ill from the disease; two of them, both men in their 70s, died.  One of the other victims, a woman in her 30s, miscarried.  A third man died in January.  Based on genetic testing, researchers discovered all the illnesses generated from bacteria identical to that found in a bottle of coffee-flavored milk produced at the Shrewsbury plant.  After studying over 100 samples, state health inspectors said they were unable determine the precise contamination source.  “The final results of the tests from the state—instead of narrowing it down—the area kept getting bigger.  It made it extremely hard for us, because we still don’t have answers,” Whittier said

A dozen milk and four plant samples tested positive for varying strains of listeria, but do not pinpoint where contamination occurred, said state officials.  It seems bacteria colonized in the plant, entering milk products following pasteurization and during production.   State health officials recently gave the family a list of 15 items to accomplish at the plant before they could reopen, ranging from simple tasks to costly endeavors.  “The state still doesn’t have answers, and we still don’t have answers,” Whittier said. “We took twice as many samples as the state at our own cost, and we still don’t have answers.”   Whittier said the family is working to pinpoint the contamination source and is pursuing several avenues, including hiring a specialist with sophisticated equipment that could to detect if there are hairline cracks in the tanks’ equipment lines, Whittier said.

The farm store now sells Connecticut-based Mountain Dairy milk products from a family-owned dairy that also does not use artificial growth hormones.

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