Dungeness Valley Creamery stopped distribution of its raw milk last week and issued a voluntary recall of all raw milk products with a ‘Best By’ date of April 13 or earlier because of a new bacterium that has been connected to its milk.
At least five lab-positive Campylobacteriosis cases have been identified in people who consumed Dungeness Valley Creamery raw milk, the state Department of Health announced on April 2.
The dairy has had milk test positive for E. coli in the past but this is the first indication of contamination with Campylobacter, which can cause severe illness, co-owner Ryan McCarthey said in an April 3 interview.
“We want to advise everyone to stop drinking it. Throw it away,” he said, adding that because it is unknown when the contamination started, consumers and distributors must get rid of all of the dairy’s raw milk products they might have on hand, including anything frozen.
“We are doing a complete shutdown and reset of the farm,” McCarthey said.
He and his wife, Sarah McCarthey, along with the dairy’s crew, have conducted extensive testing and are working with both the state Department of Agriculture and independent labs to find the potential source of contamination, he said.
As of March 2, one out of 13 recent samples taken by the Department of Agriculture detected the presence of Campylobacter in a production batch bearing the expiration date of April 6, he said.
“We’re focused on finding the source of the problem,” he said. “We don’t want people worrying, ‘Is it going to be back?’”
Until the McCartheys understand the source, the dairy will not offer any raw milk products, he said.
The McCartheys said they hope to be able to resume distribution by April 12.
“We’re committed to not distributing until then,” Ryan McCarthey said, even if the state clears the dairy earlier.
“We don’t want to rush it in any way,” he said.
Because it is a new infectious agent for the farm, it will be a “whole new learning curve as to how to resolve the way it lives in the environment,” he added.
McCarthey said he figured the hiatus could cost the dairy more than $30,000 in lost sales.
He said in a follow-up interview his goal is not to just “beat the test” but “go above and beyond and follow up a bunch on their own to rebuild that trust with customers.”
“The more (testing) we do, the more we can narrow it down so we can fix it long-term,” he said.
He and Sarah did testing from groups of cows, pumps and certain locations of the farm to help narrow down the culprit.
“Hopefully we’ll know what piece of equipment is the culprit,” Ryan McCarthey said. “if the chemicals don’t kill it then boiling it will.”
He said if they receive the “all clear” on Wednesday or Thursday, they’ll wait to distribute the product until independent tests come back a few days later.
Staff will bottle over the weekend just in case given the OK, he said.
“It’s one more thing on our radar and we’ll really be keeping an eye out for it so that it doesn’t come back,” Ryan McCarthey said.
The raw milk was purchased in Clallam, Skagit, Kitsap and Clark counties, according to the state Department of Health. It was sold in the on-farm store, outside retail stores and drop-off locations.
Symptoms of Campylobacter infection include fever, diarrhea (often bloody), nausea, vomiting, malaise and abdominal pain. Most people with Campylobacter infection recover on their own, but some need antibiotic treatment, the state said.
In severe cases, complications may include reactive arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk for severe illness, the state said.
Ryan said that he had not heard of any hospitalizations due to the infection.
During the voluntary recall, Ryan said he hasn’t reduced any hours and he’s “proud of staff stepping up” to help clean and continue to maintain the farm.
“These guys have a commitment to each other and customers,” he said.
The voluntary recall came when the McCartheys were preparing multiple projects including a brand relaunch and installation of a new liquid manure tank.
Ryan said they break ground this week for the manure tank they received a Value-Added Producer Grant for, and despite the recall it’s something they can’t halt.
They’re also working towards a brand refresh that includes multiple elements, such as different products and new imagery on bottles, he said.
“My hope is the idea that people will connect with us and let us back in the refrigerator,” he said.
This year marks the farm’s 15th anniversary overall, and the ninth for Ryan and Sarah taking over ownership.
For more information about Dungeness Valley Creamery, 1915 Towne Road, visit dungenessvalleycreamery.com.