CDC investigator Megin Nichols, who gathered information for the agency’s report accusing Miller’s Organic Farm of having produced raw milk that sickened individuals in California and Florida.

Those of you old enough may recall a television show of the late 1950s and early 1960s, “To Tell the Truth”. It featured a panel of celebrities charged with correctly picking out from among three anonymous individuals the one with an unusual occupation or experience, say a Hollywood stunt man. After the celebrities were done questioning the three, and making their selections, the three were dramatically commanded, “Will the real Hollywood stunt man please stand up.”  In one show, the celebrity panel quizzed three men, to try to figure out which one was the real Dr. Seuss—it was fun entertainment.

The show is long gone, but I keep thinking how helpful it would be if we could use that format–especially the show’s final command–to solve a new CDC raw milk mystery and identify the real California listeriosis victim highlighted by the agency in its March 18 report accusing Miller’s Organic Farm of having sickened two individuals with bad raw milk, one in Florida (who died) and one in California. We learned about the Florida “victim” last week only when a relative went public with her recollections of the victim’s illness experience with advanced cancer prior to her death.

California has become a different situation. Though two weeks have passed since the CDC report was posted online, and it has received media exposure in hundreds of publications reaching millions of people, no one has come forward claiming to be a “victim” of bad raw milk from Miller’s Organic Farm. It is a new CDC raw milk mystery.

Amos Miller of Miller’s Organic Farm has inquired with California food club members, to no avail. One of the California food club organizers, who doesn’t want to be identified, says she is equally baffled: “If anyone here has had any (medical) problems, I am the first to hear about it. Not one person has said anything.” Leading her to conclude: “It’s either fake or someone with a compromised immune system.” She adds that if milk from Miller’s was tainted, “It would be impossible for one person to get sick…There would be a dozen people or more who were sick.”

So all we know about the California “victim” is one factoid from the CDC report—that the individual was 81 years old. We don’t know if it was a man or a woman. Or where in California the individual lives. Or how long he or she was hospitalized. Or more to the point, we don’t know if she or he had some other medical condition, like the woman in Florida who was diagnosed with advanced cancer, and may have contracted listeriosis as a result of having a weakened immune system, and perhaps not from raw milk.

Public health officials are tight-lipped, to wit:

*A CDC investigator in the case, Megin Nichols (pictured above), who conducted interviews of the deceased woman’s family in Florida, wouldn’t return my calls or respond to my emails concerning the situation in California.

*When I inquired further at CDC, a public information representative referred me to the California Department of Public Health for more information about the illness there.

*A CDPH official replied to my request with a single sentence: “The California Department of Public Health does not release information about individual cases to protect patient’s confidentiality.”

The mystery deepens when you try to understand the genetic “matching” that links Miller’s Organic Farm to the two supposed cases of listeriosis. It seems that the two cases of listeriosis, in California and Florida, were identified by state public health agencies based on laboratory tests of the sickened individuals. The findings become part of a national database known as PulseNet. (According to the CDC, “PulseNet performs DNA fingerprinting on Listeria bacteria isolated from ill people by using techniques called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). CDC PulseNet manages a national database of these DNA fingerprints to identify possible outbreaks.”)

From the genetic characteristics of the pathogen in the patients, a “match” was made to the genetic characteristics of the pathogen found in Miller’s Organic Dairy chocolate milk confiscated at the Weston A. Price Foundation national conference last November.

When I inquired with the CDC public information representative as to whether the listeria pathogen found in the California and Florida individuals might have matched up to listeria in any other foods, she responded: “FDA sequenced the isolates from the raw milk product and compared it to all sequenced isolates available to them. The patient isolates were the only ones that were very similar to the product isolate. CDC with its partners in the state and local public health departments and food regulatory agencies followed up on this lead. Their investigations indicate that raw milk produced by Miller’s Organic Farm in Bird-In-Hand, Pennsylvania is the likely source of this outbreak as described on the CDC website.”

However, non-CDC health experts I have spoken with caution that “closely related genetically” (as stated in the CDC report) or “very similar” (as stated by the CDC representative) are not the same as an exact match. Indeed, the CDC’s reference to “DNA fingerprinting” is highly misleading, they say, since no match of the sort law enforcement gets with fingerprints happens in the CDC’s world. The genetic similarities are identified visually, and thus are judgment calls. Similarities are common in dozens or even hundreds of foods, one public health expert told me.

So we have this situation where the public health people are saying about the CDC report, essentially, “Trust us. We can’t give you any details at all about the illnesses, but we know we’ve got a match.” Yet we have the Florida case, where a woman apparently referred to by the CDC as having contracted listeriosis from raw milk produced by Miller’s Organic Farm, actually was being treated with chemotherapy for advanced cancer, and wasn’t known to have consumed raw milk. (A member of her family came forward after the CDC report was issued March 18.)

It doesn’t seem as if we are going to get the truth, like on the game show. The only party named has been Miller’s Organic Farm, which has been smeared by a CDC intent mainly on creating doubts about raw milk.