Bill Marler

Food Safety Advocate & Food Poisoning Attorney

John Powers - The 2007 Whittier Farms Milk Listeria Monocytogenes Outbreak

On November 27, 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Health received notification that John Powers, an 87-year-old man, had been confirmed ill with a Listeria monocytogenes infection.  

A vibrant, healthy man, John had run the Boston Marathon twice in his younger days.  On the day before Thanksgiving, 2007, his wife Regina remembers him causing his family members to double over in laughter at his stories and jokes.

Unfortunately, the groceries purchased for that year’s week-long Thanksgiving gathering included flavored milk produced by a local dairy, Whittier Farms.  John consumed coffee-flavored milk from Whittier Farms on multiple occasions.  The milk was later determined to be the source of a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak among several Massachusetts residents.

By November 23, John was rushed to the hospital with symptoms of vomiting, fever, weakness and confusion. His condition deteriorated over the next three days as his heart enlarged, fluid filled the cavity around his lungs, and his white blood cell count rose. However, he began to improve and was discharged 17 days after being admitted.  

Although he had improved dramatically, John took a final turn for the worse a week after being released. He was readmitted to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with worsening congestive heart failure, kidney disease and a respiratory infection. He began to display signs of mental decline, including anxiety and yelling.  John died the afternoon of January 3, 2008.

Four other people were also sickened by Listeria from Whittier Farms’ milk in November of 2007. Three of them were men, all over the age of 75, and all three died closely after the onset of their illnesses. The other two victims were pregnant women, both of whom gave birth prematurely, one to a stillborn infant.

The investigation into the outbreak matched culture samples from each of the victims with Listeria found in bottles of milk produced by Whittier Farms. Health department officials then determined that Whittier Farms did not have an environmental monitoring program in place for Listeria monocytogenes.  The dairy closed in February of 2008, citing inability to afford the safety upgrades that were needed.

John Powers’ family was represented by Marler Clark.  More about the Listeria outbreak and subsequent lawsuit can be found on the Marler Clark Website.

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