State officials are blaming raw milk for sickening more than 30 people in southeastern Wisconsin, including residents from Racine and Kenosha counties.

Officials are warning consumers not to drink raw milk after test results and other evidence confirmed an illness outbreak involving at least 35 people, mainly teenagers and children, who drank unpasteurized milk, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced this week.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services discovered 35 confirmed cases of campylobacter jejuni infection, including 21 patients under age 18.

The majority of the confirmed cases, 27, were from Walworth and Waukesha counties, the rest were in Racine and Kenosha counties. One person was hospitalized.

"Laws requiring pasteurization of milk have been on the books for more than half a century and there are good public health reasons for that," Steve Ingham, head of the Food Safety Division in the DATCP, said in a news release.

All those sickened had consumed unpasteurized milk. Thirty of the people identified Zinniker Family Farm in Elkhorn as the source of the raw milk. The farm sells raw milk through a "cow-share" program, according to state officials.

It is illegal in Wisconsin to sell unpasteurized milk to consumers, however several groups have organized nationwide to fight for the rights of consumers who want to purchase raw milk.

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Groups like the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Weston A. Price Foundation, which has chapters in southeastern Wisconsin, advocate for consumers who choose to buy products like raw milk.

The Zinniker Family Farm, a certified organic farm south of East Troy, has offered fresh raw milk through a Cow Ownership Program since the mid-1980s, according to the Web site http://www.fieldsneighborhood.org. The farm also sells certified organic milk to an organic dairy in the state. Attempts to reach the farm's owners were unsuccessful.

The farm sells milk to a defined customer list, state officials said.

State officials discourage consumers from joining "cow-share" membership, or other similar arrangements to buy raw milk.

"Selling raw milk to consumers is illegal in Wisconsin. Some farmers believe that such arrangements exempt them from the law. They are mistaken," Ingham said in the release. "The law says that owners may consume raw milk from their farms, but those owners have to be true owners with a real financial stake in the farm."

This is the third major outbreak in Wisconsin since 2001 that has been tied to raw milk consumption, according to state officials.

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