Serious illnesses linked with consumption of nonpasteurized milk have increased in recent years, with most caused by Campylobacter spp. Although reports of illness associated with raw milk are publicized, interest in nonpasteurized milk continues, along with an increase in the number of states where its sale is legal or where access to raw milk is possible through cow-share programs.
The CDC’s Emerging Infectious Disease Journal reported in January that outbreaks associated with raw milk increased from 30 during 2007-2009 to 51 during 2010-2012. The number of outbreaks during that six-year period is four-fold higher than the number reported from 1993 to 2006. After Campylobacter spp., the most common pathogens found in raw milk were Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella enterica serotype Typhimurium, and Coxiella burnetii. In 59 percent of outbreaks, at least one patient was younger than age 5. In addition to young children, people who are elderly or immunocompromised are most susceptible to these pathogens.
Also in January, the European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Biological Hazards issued a report concluding that raw milk can contain several harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. That group advised that even with good hygiene practices at farms and maintenance of the cold chain, the risk of infection cannot be eliminated. The group advised boiling raw milk before consumption.
This year, incidences of contamination have been reported in Arlington, Wash., where testing showed presence of Campylobacter in raw milk from a local farm, and in East Berlin, Pa., where the milk tested positive for the bacteria.
Consumption of nonpasteurized milk is currently advocated by its supporters as the “ultimate whole food” that contains high levels of calcium, beneficial bacteria, more vitamins, and other healthful qualities that are destroyed when the milk is pasteurized. According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association, buying this milk “is good for your family’s health, good for the farm and good for the environment.”
That position, however, is opposed by major health organizations in the U.S., according to Real Raw Milk Facts, a group of scientists that has compiled information on the key health and safety issues associated with nonpasteurized dairy products. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports a ban on the sale of raw milk and milk products because of the threat of disease and the evidence that pasteurization does not alter the nutritional value. This point of view is shared by the American Medical Association and other similar organizations.
Holliman is a veteran journalist with extensive experience covering a variety of industries. Reach her at [email protected].