Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Bacterial Contamination In Prison-Made Milk Fells 1,344 Prisoners and 14 Staff in 11 California Pris

Bacterial Contamination In Prison-Made Milk Fells 1,344 Prisoners and 14 Staff in 11 California Prisons

by John E. Dannenberg

Between May 16 and May 23, 2006, a milk-borne illness caused by the bacterium campylobacter caused vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches and dehydration in 1,344 prisoners and 14 staff in eleven California state prisons.

The mass outbreak began with 379 cases -- five requiring hospitalization -- surfacing at the Deuel Vocational Institute (DVI) where the milk was made as part of the 6,000 gal./day Prison Industries program. Within days, it had spread to 200 Mule Creek State Prison prisoners, 400 at Valley State Prison for Women, 11 at Wasco State Prison and 10 at Folsom State Prison.
Visiting was suspended, as were transfers. By May 28, other confirmed prisoner cases included 32 at the California Medical Facility (prison hospital); 4 at California Rehabilitation Center; 75 at California State Prison Sacramento; 94 at Central California Women's Facility; 130 at Sierra Conservation Center; and 9 at Avenal State Prison. Not explained was how prison staff became ill from milk made by and intended for prisoners.

Transmitted from animals through food, unpasteurized milk or contaminated water, campylobacter contamination is the byproduct of improper food handling and poor personal hygiene. Originally, officials believed the infection was from the norovirus (cruise ship virus), but later testing exposed the bacterial culprit. Prison spokeswoman Terry Thornton said, "We still dont know where it originated from". Yet prisoners who have been at DVI over the years recall previous outbreaks transmitted through the prisons dairy. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ordered destruction of 25,000 1/2 pint cartons of milk produced between May 8 and May 18.

But prisoners shouldn't just cry over spoiled milk. The spread of serious diseases is legion in Americas prisons and jails. PLN has reported frequently on the high prison Hepatitis C (HCV) infection rate (often 40%), the high prevalence of AIDS (HIV), and on prisons being a major vector for the spread of Tuberculosis (TB). Especially fearsome in lockups is methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a highly contagious and difficult to treat bacterial skin infection that can become systemic and fatal. The worst part about these diseases is that when untreated during incarceration (typical), they are carried unabated back into the communities when prisoners parole. Some prisoners are never told that their tests for hepatitis or AIDS came back positive, and they unwittingly go on to infect loved ones upon release.

Sources:, San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login