How I Fell Into the Trap of Blaming Raw Milk for Possible Illness; Food Safety Legislation on the Edge; Visiting Jefferson Home; New Media Coverage of Gut, Raw Milk

I did a lot of traveling this past weekend–driving around Virginia on Friday and Saturday, and around northern New England on Sunday.

By Monday and Tuesday, my stomach was feeling kind of queasy. Uh-oh, I thought. I had had raw milk at three different places I visited over those three days. One of them had gotten me, I immediately theorized. John Sheehan of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was right–I had been playing Russian roulette, and finally pulled the trigger on a chamber with a bullet.

So I spilled my guts (so to speak) to a friend in the public health arena with expertise in epidemiology, who immediately pointed out that the culprit wasn’t necessarily raw milk–that I had eaten lots of different food at lots of different places. There were crab cakes and french fries at a greasy and not especially clean looking road-side fish restaurant in Virginia, on the way to Staunton, VA, for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund fundraiser. There was a soggy cheesy burrito at Dulles airport on the way home. There was a hard-boiled egg I ate on Sunday while driving that had probably been sitting in my refrigerator for at least several weeks.  Hmmm, a public health person not immediately blaming raw milk–that was comforting.

By late Tuesday, the queasiness was gone. Whew! But I thought about something Miguel raised in a comment following my Sept. 10 post on the Michael Hartmann case, in which I said I personally wouldn’t drink the farm’s milk because I believed it had been contaminated…but that I respected the right of individuals who did want to consume it. Miguel inquired, after quoting The Plain Truth’s skepticism about genetic linkages to convict criminals, “So ,David,what evidence besides DNA evidence was used to ‘link’ those illnesses to the milk?”

I guess I’d say, first, that I don’t consider The Plain Truth to be the repository of all truth. Second, I think an epidemiological, or circumstantial, case can be made for linkages between the Hartmann dairy and most of those who became ill, apart from any genetic linkages.

But having said that, I will also say I came to realize after this past weekend that, like many people, I tend to be quick to be suspicious of raw milk as the culprit if I know it’s a food that’s been consumed by someone who has become sick. The propaganda machine that is our media, medical community, and government agencies influences all of us, whether we think so or not.
An update on the food safety legislation in Washington: Some supporters are expressing nervousness about whether Senate Bill 510 will come up for a vote. It seems one or more senators are wondering how adding so many new agents to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some $1.8 billion worth, by some estimates, is going to be paid for, and are threatening a filibuster. Good question, among many questions associated with this ill-conceived legislation designed mainly to give the FDA more power over business and farmer lives.

Skeptic that I am, I wonder if one or a few senators are seeking to make deals on other legislation, in return for supporting S510. You never know in Washington.

Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home, MonticelloI arranged my visit to Virginia last weekend so I’d have time to visit Monticello, the long-time home of Thomas Jefferson–author of the Declaration of Independence, a key framer of the U.S. Constitution, second President of the U.S., and outspoken skeptic of excessive governmental power.

Aside from being set in breathtaking countryside, it is an inspiring place on a number of counts–to see one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, as well as to see Jefferson’s vast collection of books and various inventions he prized, like on his desk that era’s version of a copier (a contraption rigged with a second pen that wrote along with the first pen’s writer).

Yes, he also apparently had a taste not only for French food, but for fermented apple cider from a particular kind of apple, and there’s a special fermentation room downstairs, next to the kitchen. As for his book collection, which included classics from Europe, the tour guide described how he donated many hundreds of books to replace the many destroyed when Washington was burned to the ground during the War of 1812. Can you imagine one individual being able to have such a major impact on the nation as to provide its reference book collection, or perhaps more relevant, to care about his country so much he’d give up one of his major pastimes accumulated over many years? 


NPR broadcast an intriguing segment yesterday on the trillions of microbes that keep us alive and well. It’s certainly interesting that scientists are coming to appreciate the importance of the microbes in our gut, or the microbiome, as it’s known, but the strong suggestion from the program was that scientists are focused on coming up with new technologies and targeting mechanisms for using the microbiome to cure specific diseases. In other words, they’re thinking patents, and drugs. I realized afterwards that what was missing was a public health message about the growing evidence that a well maintained gut can help counter disease.

Then there is this article from the Washington Post about the joys and benefits of fermentation in food.
And finally, one of the major weekly news magazines has just come out with a major article on raw milk that goes a step further than most that have come out thus far, and examines some of the statistics underlying the claims against raw milk, as well as questioning the raids on dairies and food clubs. It quotes Wisconsin dairy farmer Scott Trautman as well as yours truly, among others. ?

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35 Comments on "How I Fell Into the Trap of Blaming Raw Milk for Possible Illness; Food Safety Legislation on the Edge; Visiting Jefferson Home; New Media Coverage of Gut, Raw Milk"

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September 17, 2010 9:12 am

An interesting story about a prosecutor's faith in the reliability of DNA evidence … , among people who study DNA it is often said that if you know how to spell DNA the prosecutor will dismiss you from the jury in a case that depends on DNA evidence to convict.My daughter who has a PHD and does research on plant genetics was called for jury duty.The trial was a murder trial depending entirely on the DNA evidence to convict.As soon as the prosecutor learned what her occupation was she was dismissed from the jury.Her reaction was… Read more »

Milky Way
September 17, 2010 12:59 pm


All the DNA evidence set aside, why do you not care about making raw milk as safe as possible? It is obvious that raw milk consumers are disappointed in MN and CO due to contaminated products from Hartmann and Billy Goat farms, respectively. Even WAPF doesn't deny that raw milk has caused illnesses and outbreaks. I agree with Mark that national raw milk food safety standards are needed.


Blair McMorran
September 17, 2010 1:56 pm

Isn't it great to have a strong immune system?
Thanks for all the great links! That fermentation article is a keeper. And, I'm celebrating that senator from Oklahoma who stalled S. 510. It's a bad bill – mostly because of the money and power doled out to the FDuh to 'fix' the food problem that they largely created, with their pals at USDuh. Now we have 7 E. coli strains that produce shiga toxins. How many more are coming?

Thanks again for teaching. Please keep it coming!

What is the approved method… Read more »

Bill Anderson
September 17, 2010 2:14 pm


I agree about the need for taking measures to improve raw milk safety, but just because we form an organization to set standards doesn't mean everyone will follow them. The best we could do is a certification. We can't stop farms without the certification from selling raw milk, but they wouldn't get to display the "seal of approval."

However, there are many problems in forming such an organization and standards. Firstly, the issue has so much political charge to it. We can almost be assured that some corporate dairy people are going to try infiltrating and… Read more »

Smy Opin
September 17, 2010 9:59 pm

I have noticed a strange cultural shift that has taken place in my lifetime regarding food safety.
When I was growing up, there was simply an understanding that new foods, or food/water consumed while traveling were going to cause some gastric issues until your body adjusted.

"Montezuma's revenge" and any other various names, depending on where in the world you happend to be, was notorious and unpleasant, but it was a fact of life, not a crisis. I know American's tended to downplay similar events that took place within our nation (because by golly we were so sterile…)… Read more »

September 17, 2010 11:14 pm


What have I said to give you the impression that I don't want to make all milk as safe as possible?We definitely will have differing views on how to make milk safe.People who agree with my methods of safety will be happy to get milk from me,people who agree with you can get the milk you approve of.Is there any problem with that?

Steve Bemis
September 18, 2010 4:55 am

Smy you make an interesting point. In response, I think the expectation for totally safe food is a spin-off (one of many) from the industrialized standardization of fast-food taste. McDonald's strove, so I have read, to make their stuff so totally standardized in taste that you could expect to get exactly the meal from them that you had become accustomed-to, no matter where in the country – or world – you might buy it. I think standardized taste expectation has been a huge factor in McDonald's, and indeed all fast food's, marketing success over the last… Read more »

Milky Way
September 18, 2010 8:10 am


Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but it seems like you spend a lot of time arguing the science when a raw milk outbreak occurs (presumably to say that the outbreak was not linked to raw milk). I'd love to see the outbreaks dissected by people who really know raw milk production and do it well. The state investigations usually conclude that unsanitary conditions lead to the outbreak, but do not recommend how to improve the conditions (the mantra is avoid raw milk because it cannot be produced safely). In other types of foodborne outbreaks there are usually… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
September 18, 2010 8:12 am
Sylvia Gibson
September 18, 2010 8:14 am
September 18, 2010 9:38 am


To start with,I do not agree with the approach taken where the assumption is made that some strain of bacteria contaminating the food is responsible for the illnesses.Sanitizers,detergents,milk stone acids and other chemicals are used in milking and milk processing systems to kill the bacteria in the system.If these chemicals are in the milk in a high enough concentration they can lead to illness.A stool sample may show that the bacteria in the colon is out of balance with predominantly one type of bacteria.The bacteria was selected for by the chemical contamination of the food .It… Read more »

Milky Way
September 18, 2010 10:12 am


Are you suggesting that the people who got sick from raw milk, for example the Billy Goat dairy outbreak,would not have become ill if certain chemicals weren't used on the farm? I wonder if there is any data about the chemicals used on that farm or others who experienced an outbreak vs. farms without outbreaks. Must admit some skeptisism about putting forward a recommendation to: "test…by leaving a pint of milk at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours until it sets up.It should have a pleasant flavor still when it sets.If it forms gas bubbles or… Read more »

September 18, 2010 9:54 pm


Every day we milk the cows (tasting the milk from each cow) and bring a bucket of milk into the house.We feed the calves morning and night from that bucket.The next day the left over milk has clabbered and it gets fed to the chickens or pigs.We notice how the milk has clabbered and what it smells like.Twice a week we make kefir with fresh milk,we notice how it smells,looks and tastes.Twice a week we culture cream to make butter.Once a week we make cheese culture with the milk.Once a week we make cheese.All of… Read more »

Mary Martin
September 18, 2010 10:23 pm

Hi David,

It is a bummer you were ill for a few days with vomiting and diarrhea, but thank goodness it was only a few days. Maybe you had a Norovirus infection. It typically lasts 1-2 days.

A serious case of food poisoning looks a little different. You would have extremely painful bloody diarrhea and vomiting every 15 to 20 minutes for a week. When your rectum becomes over used, you can develop rectal prolapse. When this happens, it is important to have someone there to push it back in for you. … Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
September 19, 2010 2:02 am

The majority of food poisoning case are mild. Sorry David, yours sounds like it was mild.

Food poisoning usually last anywhere from one day to a week. Most lasting just a few days. Most people have experienced a bout of sudden onset diarrhea, possible vomiting, and abd cramps. Most times it is self limited and will resolve its self. Just stay hydrated. Unless your poop and/or blood is tested (possibly many stool samples) you may not know if it is virus vs food… Read more »

Mark McAfee
September 19, 2010 8:02 am


That was really gross…

Mary Martin
September 19, 2010 8:58 am

Yes Mark. It is gross. We lived it. However, when it happens to your child it is more traumatic than gross. The rectal prolase occurred on day three of relentless, painful diarrhea. By this time Chris was so weak and was pooping so often he just remained on the portable potty chair with pillows all around so that he could dose off in-between bouts of diarrhea. The intern doctor was so shocked she didnt know what to do. Tony took care of the part of pushing Chris rectum back in. The following… Read more »

Mary Falk
September 19, 2010 9:08 am

A couple of years ago the AMA actually published a press release which stated that the consumption of between 8 to 24 ounces of live active cultured yogurt a day can reduce allergy symptoms by 80%, I read about it in Prevention magazine.
I believe that it was last year that the FDA approved the release of a new
"desensitzing" product ( I do not have a clue as to what it is called)
If consumed it is supposed to help desensitize people to local allergies….geeez, do you think that the reason that the "gummit'" is cracking… Read more »

Concerned Person
September 19, 2010 9:10 am
Mary Falk
September 19, 2010 9:12 am

if you or your family ever encounters food poisoning again, I highly encourage you to use activated isAMAZING at how quick it works.
You can get it at just about any pharmacy.

Sylvia Gibson
September 19, 2010 9:25 am

More frankinfoods shoved onto the masses. Apparently the only say we have is not to purchase any made made phoods.

Mark McAfee
September 19, 2010 12:20 pm


Two thoughts come to mind:

1. Modern medicine is a sure method to get sicker if you follow blindly into the antibiotic darkness. Doctors do not know how to deal with gut problems and openly say that on "Doctor Radio" when questioned about gut problems….they relieve the pain and perhaps the diarhea, or the cramping but do not know why the problem occured. They are clueless when it comes to the gut. They are not even practicing medicine…they are guessing at it.

2. On Thursday last week we made two batches of delicious raw milk icecream ( on site…… Read more »

Smy Opin
September 19, 2010 7:52 pm

Concerned Person,
The article you linked was interesting but I'm not sure what to make of it in light of raw milk, and this blog in particular.
I understand the need for a "wake up call" among producers who may be getting sloppy in their practices.

Bringing it to this group, however, comes across as fear mongering, as in "do what I say, children, or the boogeyman Bill is gonna getcha…"
Stop it already. These folks here are bending over backwards to avoid sloppy practices and there is never any encouragement to cut corners.

Wayne Craig
September 19, 2010 8:32 pm

Smy Opin, don't you see, CP believes that all farmers are sleaze balls, taking short cuts, and screwing the customer. In CP's world he, she ,it sees this as standard operating procedure by our Food Inc. system and can't imagine farmers doing it any other way.

CP, there is another way and many of us live it every day. We produce the best food we can and sell it directly to customers who know us by name and can see the methods we use. However, this world is not a fairy tale where everything… Read more »

Mary Martin
September 19, 2010 9:09 pm

Mark, after I posted the previous comment I thought to myself someone is going to make a comment about antibiotics. Also, my comment was not spiteful. It is descriptive. The realities of suffering from a severe case of food poisoning are not pretty.

Most people who eat food contaminated with a pathogen will suffer symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting for a few days to a week and then recover. Chris suffered from a severe case of food poisoning (diarrhea and vomiting) because he consumed the contaminated food more than one time (probably 4 times). … Read more »

Concerned Person
September 20, 2010 12:59 am

Smy and Wayne, there is a raw milk movement in the U.S. and Canada. I am talking big picture when I post comments. They are not directed personally to anyone the blogs here. The link below acknowledges that fact the some raw milk farmers are sloppy in their safety practices.

I think the best person to share his thoughts on this subject would be Mark McAfee. Pre Bill Marler in his life there was not a RAMP safety model. Post Bill Marler there is a RAMP safety model. I think… Read more »

Bill Anderson
September 20, 2010 7:00 am

Milky Way-

The technique Miguel is talking about is actually very common, even for dairy processors. Many milk plants, particularily in fluid milk, run "P.I. tests" on raw milk that they incubate at 55F for 18 hours. This encourages the growth of pyscrotrophic bacteria (cold loving bacteria), which are then ennumereted the same way as a standard plate count, and compared to the standard plate count of the raw milk when it was fresh.

Some artisan Cheesemakers will often incubate a sample of raw milk at room temperature or warmer for several days, as a way… Read more »

September 20, 2010 8:15 am

We aren't just running an occasional test on our milk.We are continuously monitoring it for quality every day in many different ways.This is the way things traditionally were done before we had laboratories to do the testing. When you are familiar with how the milk normally acts when make cheese or butter or kefir ,etc. any change is glaringly obvious.

September 20, 2010 9:56 am

Since there has been some questions about the Hartmann Dairy outbreak, I thought I could help understand the situation better. I have been to several days of testimony, have followed the case on media, and have been informed of the goings on at the hearing when I was not there (second hand information is always a little dangerous but media seem to correspond with information I heard. Keep in mind that this case took about 10 days of hearings so I can't go into excrutiating detail but hopefully this will be enough info for people to get a flavor… Read more »

Milky Way
September 20, 2010 10:39 am

miguel says: "Why is it [MW] that when someone gets sick after drinking fresh milk that the milk is always the cause in your mind."

David says, "So I spilled my guts (so to speak) to a friend in the public health arena with expertise in epidemiology, who immediately pointed out that the culprit wasn't necessarily raw milk–that I had eaten lots of different food at lots of different places."

I am the "friend" who advised David. There are countless investigations that do not lead to raw milk. Indeed, only a relatviely few involve raw milk, but, given the… Read more »

Steve Smith
September 20, 2010 8:42 pm


We use many of the same tests you do to assess our milk quality. A further test (or observation) is the health of the calves that are nursing some of the cows part of the day.

However, smell and taste tests are not completely objective or reliable due to the variability and sensitivity of the test instruments. For instance, our son's sense of smell is such that he could tell if there was gasoline in the milk but otherwise it would smell and taste good to him. Is there some way to sensitize a person's taste and smell senses to… Read more »

Mark McAfee
September 20, 2010 10:52 pm

The Ding Dong….the Witched Witch is Melting and maybe Dying…..SB 510 appears to have been stalled and may not be voted on this year!!! My letters are working!!!

The FDA does not get its budget or its teeth to go out on its long awaited "search and destroy" missions against Raw Milk everywhere….

Halla Fricken Luhya!!!


September 21, 2010 2:08 am


I always value a second opinion from someone who has experience behind their opinion.What I am hoping is that farmers and consumers will realize that they do have the tools to form their own first opinion not just about quality but about safety.To me quality and safety are connected.

No,we can't detect 10 cells of e.coli o157:H7 in a ml of milk,but we aren't going to put that ml of milk in a solution of antibiotic and special o157:H7 growth medium.We are going to leave it in a solution of milk with(hopefully) plenty of lactic… Read more »

Lynn McGaha
September 22, 2010 1:41 pm

Miguel wrote:
"I have made my own cheese starter the way that Bill related and I guarantee that any starter that isn't perfectly sweet and delicious is going to be added to 100 gallons of milk."

MIguel, surely you meant that any starter that isn't perfectly sweet and delicious IS NOT going to be added to 100 gallons of milk? That is, you would only add perfectly sweet and delicious starter to 100 gallons of milk.

The byline for the link you posted is dated April 16, 2010. Is the stall in S.B. 510 current news… Read more »