Third person dies from bad milk

Dan McDonald

A third death has been linked to bacteria-tainted milk produced at a local dairy.

An 87-year-old Norfolk County man died from listeriosis, a bacterial infection, Thursday after drinking milk from Whittier Farms -- a dairy that has stores in Sutton and Shrewsbury, Department of Public Health spokeswoman Donna Rheaume said.

The man had battled the infection since November, Rheaume said.

State health officials issued a warning in late December encouraging consumers to throw out any Whittier milk products. At that point, two deaths and two other illnesses had been connected to the tainted milk since June 2007.

In all cases, state health officials drew parallels between the bacteria sources through analyzing the bacteria samples from each case.

"The common source was milk products from the farm," Rheaume said.

The business has halted operations while state officials investigate the listeria outbreak.

Health officials also think a 31-year-old Middlesex County woman was affected when she was rushed to the hospital to deliver a baby last September. Both the baby and mother are doing well, Rheaume said.

While the state was unable to identify a "DNA fingerprint" of the bacteria from that case, it was able to draw an "epidemiological link to the outbreak," Rheaume said.

That woman was not among the original four listeria cases linked by state officials in late December. One of those cases was a pregnant woman from central Massachusetts. That 34-year-old's pregnancy ended in miscarriage.

In addition, two elderly men died from the milk, one in June and one in October.

Rheaume said her department has taken hundreds of samples from Whittier Farms products. She declined to say if one specific dairy product or one type of milk was at the root of the listeria problem.

"The investigation is ongoing," she said several times.

Rheaume did not identify any of the victims, their hometowns, or the hospitals where they were treated.

MetroWest Daily News writer Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-490-7475 or