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The Sanitary Milk Crusade

10-19-times-past

“Local Milk Fails the Standards” announced the headline of the Bisbee Daily Review on June 18, 1914. The following day more alarming news greeted citizens as they read: “Conditions of Milk Bad in District.”

The headlines announced the results of tests on Bisbee-area milk supplies performed by the state bacteriologist in Tucson. It was all part of a plan by the city of Bisbee Board of Health and City Physician Dr. Herendeen to stop the spread of infectious disease.

On June 19, the Review reported: “Ten dairies selling milk in the Warren District and particularly in the City of Bisbee have had their licenses held up pending their raising the standard of the product they sell to comply with the requirements of the city ordinance … in some cases, [the milk] is absolutely injurious due to foreign substances contained in it.”

The dairies, located in the San Pedro Valley, the Sulphur Springs Valley and a few in Bisbee failed to meet the standard for butter fat content (3%) and contained bacteria and foreign matter injurious to human health. The newspaper reported sickness traced to the tainted milk.

The Bisbee Daily Review backed the city physician in an editorial June 19: “Coming as it does early in his administration, Dr. Herendeen has given proof of official vigilance in revealing a situation which is a menace to the entire community as long as it is permitted to endure. It is difficult to understand, however, because of the indicated general practice of all the dealers to sell spurious milk, why their evil dealing[s] were not discovered before this.

“A pure milk supply is no less important than a pure water supply in contributing to the health of a city. The Warren District has ample assurance of the purity of its water supply, but it seems that the situation regarding milk has been grossly neglected.”

A dairyman, H.E. Bohmfolk, wrote to the Review to present the dairymen’s side of the story. He argued it was difficult to bring up the butter fat content to standard because of the lack of shade, water and grass in the region. He explained that it cost a great deal to feed his cows the extra grain it would take to meet the standard.

As to the impurities in the milk, he blamed customers for not cleaning the milk containers when they were through with them. He wrote: “I have seen cans and jars, of my own and of other dairymen, put out to go back to the dairymen, which were not only filthy, but which actually contained animal life, even with maggots working in the decayed filth – and all because a careless ignorant housekeeper, servant or attendant in some public place had not washed the bottle or can after emptying it. This is really a criminal offense.”

The health authorities pressed for better sterilization of milk equipment and continued monitoring of milk. Dr. Herendeen promised to publish a “White List” of dairies whose product passed the health code. The first list appeared on the front page of the Review on July 19, 1914, about a month after the effort began. Warren Ranch, Sam Medigovich Dairy, Portage Lake Dairy and G.A. Hardt Dairy all passed the health test.

Dr. Herendeen reported every sample to have improved and that “there are but few dairies now operating in the district and city which have not brought their product up to the standard as set by law.”

This Times Past article was originally published on July 13, 2001.

Photo courtesy Bisbee Mining and Mineral Museum.
©Arizona Capitol Times.

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