York County dairy's milk OK'd by FDA; No bacteria found

FDA, DHEC did not find bacteria that made three people sick

dworthington@heraldonline.comJuly 27, 2011 

— Raw milk from a York County dairy is free of the bacteria the Food and Drug Administration said made three people in North Carolina ill in June, according to the FDA and state health regulators.

A spokesman for the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control said Tuesday "all raw milk samples" from the Tucker Adkins Dairy off S.C. 5 between Rock Hill and York are free of Campylobacter, a bacteria known to cause diarrhea, cramping and fever. The FDA said the milk from a June 14 sample was negative for Campylobacter.

But, said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao, "we don't doubt that Campylobacter caused this outbreak."

The FDA is continuing its investigation to pinpoint where the bacteria formed. It could have been at the dairy or in the transportation of the milk, she said.

On July 16, the FDA issued a "foodborne outbreak" notice associated with the raw milk from the dairy, urging people to drink pasteurized milk and dispose of any raw milk from the dairy.

One of the people sickened by the milk was hospitalized, Yao said.

The FDA also said there are five probable cases of Campylobacteriosis and the number might be higher because many cases go unreported to health officials.

The attention caused by the announcement has overwhelmed dairy owners Tommy and Carolyn Adkins. It also has drawn more attention to the debate over raw milk sales, which are legal in South Carolina, but illegal in North Carolina.

Proponents of raw milk cite its health benefits. Carolyn Adkins said first-time drinkers compare the milk's taste to vanilla ice cream. Detractors said there is nothing to support that claim and that raw milk has a number of harmful bacteria. The FDA maintains all milk should be pasteurized. DHEC advises people that drinking raw milk has inherent risk and encourages people to pasteurize raw milk at home before drinking it.

Rock Hill and Fort Mill vendors of raw milk report a couple of questions from buyers after the FDA announcement, but no drop in consumption. The milk these vendors sell comes from Milky Way Farms in Starr.

"People who love raw milk, know raw milk," said Calvin Gargiulo, president of the Rock Hill Farm Market on Cherry Road.

Sales, said managers of the Rock Hill Farm Market and the Peach Stand in Fort Mill, are about 375 gallons a week. Some people come from as far as Winston-Salem, N.C., to purchase raw milk, said Sherri Murray of the Peach Stand.

Family operation

The Adkinses maintain they have done nothing wrong.

"There is no way to say it except they are trying to get rid of a small business," Carolyn Adkins said Tuesday.

Their York County dairy farm is a simple operation. There are four stalls where Guernsey cows are milked. Before - and after - each cow is milked, their utter and teats are cleaned.

An electronic milker collects milk in a stainless steel container. Milk from that container is then poured into another stainless steel container with a spigot. Carolyn Adkins opens the spigot, filling plastic gallon jugs. The milk sits for a few seconds as it foams.

The gallons of raw milk are chilled in ice, then put in a cooler. Keeping the milk at a consistent, cold temperature is key to fighting bacteria, she said.

Campylobacter grows faster in the summer because of heat and humidity, said Boyd Parr, state veterinarian. The bacteria is not found in cow's milk, but introduced into it, he said.

The Adkinses encourage customers to put their milk in coolers if they are traveling far. Ice is available at the farm.

The Adkinses are careful to keep all surfaces clean, using about 40 gallons of Clorox a day, they said.

'From moo to you'

"This is whole food, what God put in it, nothing taken away," said Carolyn Adkins, wearing a T-shirt which reads, "Tucker Adkins Dairy From moo to you."

The Adkinses' lives revolve around the dairy. Cows are fed before the family of eight eats, Carolyn Adkins said.

"Our cows don't have a number, each has a name," Tommy Adkins said.

Children's chores revolve around the dairy.

The Adkinses have about 60 head of cattle. The milking herd is about 30 which are milked, twice a day. It takes between 15 to 20 minutes per cow for milking. Daily output is usually between 80 and 100 gallons, she said. The per gallon price is $6.

All of the milk is sold at the farm.

When the FDA investigated, Carolyn Adkins said they asked for a list of her customers. She said, "I know customers by their first name, by their prayer needs, by their family news," but she did not have a list of last names or addresses.

"This is a cash business," she said.

According to the FDA, a courier picks up raw milk at the Tucker Adkins Dairy twice a month which is then distributed in North Carolina. The FDA became involved because taking the milk across state lines constitutes interstate commerce.

DHEC, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the N.C. Division of Public Health have been assisting the FDA in the investigation.

The Adkinses said this is the first time they had trouble in the seven years they have operated the dairy. They represent the third generation of their family to operate a dairy in York County.

Because of the problems associated with raw milk, DHEC inspects such dairies monthly. Carolyn Adkins said it is a thorough inspection. The milk is tested for bacteria monthly, but the monthly inspection does not test for Campylobacter.

Carolyn Adkins said she had each cow as well as random milk samples tested for Campylobacter, after being informed of the FDA investigation.

'Bothersome' reports

David Gumpert, an Needham, Mass.-based author who follows the raw milk issue, said the FDA's reaction to the reports of illness from the Tucker Adkins dairy were "bothersome."

"There was no reason for the FDA to put out a national alert," Gumpert said. "It was highly localized incident."

He said the FDA usually puts out news releases or public service announcements to warn people about dangerous foods that have regional or national distribution.

"This doesn't fit into that context," he said. "Politics is the only explanation. The FDA is rabidly anti-raw milk. They have stigmatized this dairy. Anyone who goes on Google to research this dairy will see three pages of media that reprinted the (FDA) press release. I don't believe that is fair."

Stephanie Yao of the FDA said the agency is doing its job. The agency has required pasteurization of milk since 1987.

Carolyn Adkins said the dairy's next step is to "try to clear my name. How? I don't know yet."

But when customers now come to the dairy, she said, "I see doubt in their eyes - doubt the federal government has put in their eyes."

Gargiulo, of the Rock Hill Farm Market, said, "I've never met a harder working people. All they know is farming. The community needs to stand behind them."

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