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Grand Jury Urges State to Consider Halting Raw Milk Sales

October 24, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A county grand jury says state officials should consider halting the sale of raw milk, citing health investigators’ fears that the milk may have played a role in a listeriosis epidemic that killed 85 people statewide.

County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who on Wedesday released the grand jury’s Oct. 10 report, said he would urge the state to follow its recommendation s.

″If it were up to me, I would do it,″ said Dr. Shirley Fanin, associate director of the county’s communicable disease control unit and a critic of raw milk consumption.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture, which would have jurisdiction to halt raw milk sales, will review the report, said Rex Magee, an associate director of the department. He declined to comment on the report until he had a chance to read it.

The epidemic of listeriosis poisoning that lasted from March to August caused 85 deaths statewide, half of them in Los Angeles County, as 250 cases of listeriosis were reported around the state. Most of those who died were newborns and unborn infants.

The grand jury recommended that ″consideration be given to the advisability of pasteurization of all milk and milk products sold to the public.″

Pasteurization, the heating of milk, kills the dangerous Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, health officials have said.

At the time, the bacteria was found in cheese produced by Jalisco Mexican Products Inc., although many of the deaths could not be blamed on consumption of the cheese. Jalisco’s plant in suburban Artesia was shut down in mid-June amid a multi-agency investigation to pinpoint the contamination’s source.

The precise source still has not been isolated. However, the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said in a report released this week that it found none of the dangerous bacteria in 27 dairy herds which supplied Jalisco.

The City of Industry-based Alta-Dena Certified Dairy, the state’s largest producer of raw milk and one of the nation’s largest dairies, would be hardest hit by a raw milk ban.

″My gosh, raw milk had nothing to do with the outbreak,″ Alta-Dena’s chief executive, Harold Stueve, said after hearing about the grand jury report. ″It’s the safest milk in the world, bar none. That’s nature’s most perfect food. They (the grand jurors) don’t understand it.″

Alta-Dena shipped its own raw milk and raw milk from other dairies to the Jalisco plant.

During the epidemic, Hahn proposed a resolution suspending Alta-Dena’s raw milk sales, but the supervisors threw it out. The supervisors did approve Hahn’s motion for the grand jury investigation.

The grand jury also urged faster, more efficient distribution of information on infectious diseases by the county through telephone and follow- up postcard warnings from health officials to retailers and others handling contaminated products.

Early in the outbreak of listeriosis poisoning that began last spring, critics said county health officials failed to deal with it quickly enough.

The report also criticized local hospitals for not quickly reporting the outbreak as required by law.

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