WASILLA—A recent outbreak of a stomach illness in south-central Alaska has state health officials worried about more potential cases.
Every year the state’s Department of Health and Social Services receives reports of more than 60 cases of campylobacter, which is caused by food contaminated by fecal matter.
Last month alone, seven people tested positive for the illness and health officials believe they all got it from consuming raw milk from a cow-share farm in the Mat-Su Valley, said state health officials, declining to say which farm is responsible.
They say this outbreak is being treated differently because the cases are linked and the strain is rare. State health officials say the contamination may have come from manure that got into the milk during the milking process or from an infected udder.
"Fecal contamination of raw milk can and does occur," said state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. "This is why many decades ago we began to pasteurize milk because it's very difficult to prevent fecal contamination from occurring."
Alaska bans the sale of raw milk, but people can own shares of an animal through a cow-or goat-share program, which in turn allows you to drink the milk.
Health officials want the public know about the risks involved with drinking raw milk, which can include E. coli, tuberculosis and salmonella.
Suzy and Mike Crosby own Cottonwood Creek Farm and drink their goats’ milk. They say targeting raw milk is unfair.
"If anything happens with raw milk, raw milk becomes vilified and brought into the limelight way disproportionably to the number of illnesses," Suzy Crosby said.
Cottonwood Creek Farm has about 40 share owners who drink milk from their nine milking goats.
"We take every precaution to be as clean as possible, to test our goats for diseases, and to maintain a really healthy, sanitary operation," Suzy Crosby said.
She says she wants the public to have a choice between raw and pasteurized milk.
"Some people are absolutely uncomfortable with the idea of eating or drinking anything not pasteurized," she said. “Do your homework and don’t do something you’re not comfortable with. But those who have tried it are generally instantly addicted and won’t go back.”