Dozens of people fell ill with salmonella after drinking raw milk from a California farm

Dozens of salmonella infections have been linked to raw milk from a California farm, a much larger outbreak than previously known, newly released state data show.

At least 165 people have been sickened by salmonella infections linked to products from Raw Farm in Fresno, California, as of February, according to the data. Health officials say it is the largest reported salmonella outbreak linked to raw milk in the U.S. in the past decade.

The announcement about the scale of the outbreak comes as health officials are warning the public to avoid unpasteurized milk because of an avian flu virus circulating among U.S. dairy cows. The bird flu, known as Type A H5N1, has been detected in more than 140 U.S. dairy herds, and federal health officials say the virus has been found in high levels in raw milk.

State and local health officials had not notified the public of the full extent of the salmonella outbreak since October, when officials in San Diego reported about a dozen cases. At the time, Raw Farm issued a voluntary recall for milk and heavy cream sold between Oct. 11 and Nov. 6.

But cases continued to climb, according to documents obtained by Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney who shared the data with The Associated Press. Marler said he represents 16 clients who have reportedly been sickened by the outbreak.

Researchers matched samples from sick people with samples from the farm and a store, the documents said. More than 60% of the people surveyed with confirmed infections reported consuming Raw Farm products. People from four states were infected, though the vast majority — 162 — were from California. Four of the people with salmonella were also infected with campylobacter and/or dangerous E. coli bacteria, the documents said.

Nearly 40 percent of the illnesses were reported in children under 5, officials said. Twenty people were hospitalized. No deaths were reported.

California health officials said Wednesday they had conducted a “robust” investigation in collaboration with local teams and state agriculture officials, and had notified the public about the outbreak through the October recall notice and social media posts in October, November and December. The outbreak ended on May 4, officials said. It’s not clear whether more cases were reported after February.

Mark McAfee, owner of Raw Farm, acknowledged that his products were part of the outbreak. He said a single cow was infected with salmonella last fall and was later removed from the herd. He said he instituted additional testing protocols in response to the outbreak.

Jessie McGee, 35, of San Pedro, Calif., said she plans to sue Raw Farm because her 6-year-old daughter was hospitalized in October with a confirmed infection linked to the outbreak. McGee said she read online about the supposed health benefits of raw milk and started drinking Raw Farm products and feeding them to her daughter and her 2-year-old twins. All three children and McGee became sick, she said, but her oldest daughter’s symptoms, a high fever and stomach cramps, were the most severe.

After the ordeal, McGee said she will no longer drink unpasteurized milk.

“None of the potential benefits you could get from milk are worth that,” she said.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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