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Milk was Responsible for E. Coli Outbreak in 2005 in Washington and Oregon

June 18, 2008

MICHAEL PUCKETT, 56, and ANITA PUCKETT, 49, the owners of Dee Creek Farm in Cowlitz County, Washington, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to a misdemeanor, Distribution of Adulterated Food, in connection with an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in December 2005. The couple sold “shares” in the milk production of their small dairy herd to consumers in Washington and Oregon. They gave their unpasteurized milk to people who they knew were going to transport it across state lines. In December 2005, the milk was kept in unsanitary conditions and 18 people were sickened in Washington and Oregon. According to the Food and Drug Administration, three children were hospitalized with renal failure – one for a month. Some may have permanent kidney damage.

According to the plea agreements, the couple admits that in December 2005, milk was obtained from the cows and was stored before distribution in a manner that did not meet the sanitary requirements for a license from the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The Washington State Department of Agriculture investigated the farm following the E coli outbreak. Inspectors found a cow holding area, and entrance to the barn was deep in mud and manure; rubber mats on the dirt floor of the milking area were coated with mud, manure and hay; there was no running water in the barn or other hand-washing facilities; and the milk was collected in metal containers, covered with plastic wrap and taken to the PUCKETT’s kitchen in the family station wagon. In the kitchen the milk was transferred into gallon-size glass containers. Additionally, Dee Creek Farm could show no evidence that their well had been tested for bacteria, a requirement for a licensed dairy.

Most states prohibit the direct sale of raw, unpasteurized milk unless the seller is licensed by the state to sell the raw milk. In this case, Dee Creek was not licensed to sell raw milk. Since the milk that was produced by the farm crossed state lines, federal law was violated.

MICHAEL and ANITA PUCKETT face up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine when sentenced by Magistrate Judge Karen Strombom on September 5, 2008.

The case was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Washington and Oregon Departments of Health, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110, or Special Agent Phil Walsky, Public Affairs Officer for the FDA at (240) 276-9455 or cell (301) 343-8612. For the Washington State Department of Agriculture please contact Communications Director Jason Kelly at (360)902-1815.

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