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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Raw Milk Debate

Raw milk warning issued
Dairy Herd news source  |  Friday, March 26, 2010
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with several state agencies, is alerting consumers to an outbreak of campylobacteriosis associated with drinking raw milk. At least 12 confirmed illnesses have been recently reported in Michigan. Symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.
The FDA is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the Indiana State Health Department, to investigate the outbreak. MDCH reports that, as of March 24, it received reports of 12 confirmed cases of illness from Campylobacter infections in consumers who drank raw milk. The raw milk originated from Forest Grove Dairy in Middlebury, Ind.
Public health authorities, including FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have expressed concerns about the hazards of drinking raw milk for decades.
Since 1987, the FDA has required all milk packaged for human consumption to be pasteurized before being delivered for introduction into interstate commerce. Pasteurization, a process that heats milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time, kills bacteria responsible for diseases, such as listeriosis, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria and brucellosis. FDA’s pasteurization requirement also applies to other milk products, with the exception of a few aged cheeses.
From 1998 to 2008, 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk were reported to CDC. These outbreaks included a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths. Because not all cases of foodborne illness are recognized and reported, the actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is greater.
More information on raw milk.

Some raw milk drinkers put their heads in the sand an ignore this. Others actual deny it saying that it is a government conspiracy against raw milk. But it happens. Farmers who practice good methods are very unlikely to have problems with their milk. However it can happen to any farmer.

If your children have any health problems, I wouldn’t give them raw milk. If they are healthy, the risk is small. But don’t let them drink a whole quart in one setting like I do.

Think of it this way, from 1998 to 2008, 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk were reported to CDC. These outbreaks included a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people drank raw milk during that time. If your family is the one out of 100,000 or a million that gets sick, then go to the doctor.  

What are your chances of getting the flue, or other illnesses? What are your chances of dying from cancer or getting killed in a car accident? Life is fraught with risk. I wouldn’t start smoking because of the risks associated with it (not to mention my religious abstinence). But I don’t hesitate to drink raw milk.

All of that said, Grade A pasteurized, homogenized, vitamin A&D fortified milk purchased at the store is still pretty darn good and healthy. The most important thing – GOT MILK?



Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

I'm glad this hasn't scared you from drinking raw milk. I hate to sound like I'm contradicting the article, however, I would be curious to know how many people got sick from drinking pasteurized milk. Just a quick search on google pulled up this report done in Kentucky - http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000400.htm

14 of 91 people (15%) became sick drinking pasteurized milk in this study alone. I didn't read the entire article, but they seem to be saying MILK in general is the culprit. My point is that unclean practices of any food can be risky. Raw milk isn't the culprit - uncleanliness IS! Think spinach, hamburger, peanut butter, etc.

I'll close by saying that I agree that anyone with a child with health issues should be extra careful. We do need to know our farmers and their practices. Good food for thought, Marisa!

Dale Johnson said...


I appreciate you weighing in on this debate. It is controversial. You raise legitimate questions.

I am a raw milk drinker. I love it. I believe it is reasonably safe when obtained from a reputable farmer in the U.S. who has good milking protocols. I did get sick from raw milk in Uzbekistan. I was stupid to drink it there. I was stupid to drink it in Turkey a few weeks ago but I did it out of courtesy to the farmers I was workinig with but I only drank a little bit.

In the report you mentioned above, it appears that the people who got sick drank the milk in a convent where they inadequately pastuerized their own milk. The report mentions "Pasteurization temperatures and holding times during the epidemic period are not known but may have been as low as 54.5 C (130 F) for only 30 minutes."

Milk cooperatives who process milk follow very stringent pastuerization protocols which are constantly being monitored, unlike the convent mentioned in the report.

In my life I have known thousands and thousands of people who drink store bought pasteurized milk. I have never met anyone who got food poisoning from it. I know a few people who are lactose intolerant and cannot drink it. But my experience tells me that properly pasteurized (store bought milk) milk is safe, much much safer than the raw milk I drink.

Whenever someone tells me they know someone who got sick from drinking store bought pasteurized milk, I ask them "Was it verified that the food poisoning came from pastuerized milk?" They don't know.

I would say that I am a raw milk advocate. But I am also a pasteurized milk advocate.

I worked in Poland in 1992 and my family of 4 small children lived there with me. LeAnn and I did not trust raw or pastuerized milk from the small local store. Instead we purchase expensive UHT pasteurized milk from western Europe. The first day we went into the store we tried to buy all 20 liters they had on the shelf. The store wouldn't sell it all to us because they had other customers who wanted it. So we told them in the future we needed 20 liters a week and to stock up. The same thing happened with corn flakes and diapers. They couldn't believe a family could go through so much milk, cornflakes, and diapers. But they didn't question our incredble hot dog consumpton.

Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

Interesting that the Polish thought the hot dog consumption was normal and the large milk consumption was not! Do most people there still raise their own dairy cattle/goats and so don't purchase it, or do they not drink much?

Thanks for reading the whole article I referenced- I had to skim as I was in a hurry. I think we are starting to see some contamination of "safe" foods BUT, only because of unsanitary practices. I think if our culture was educated more in the practices of farming we'd understand this, but we are so far removed from the farm that we are clueless. I hope bloggers like Backyard Farming and Homestead Revival can go a long way to correct that.

m. said...

since you're doing the research, i ll give you my question. what would worry me is not how often it happens, but the severity of the illness if it does. like, how likely is it that you will die if you do get sick from it. i haven't researched it at all but always here about people in the past dieing when i hear anything about it.

what's the scoop?! thanks...

Jennifer Montero said...

I've been living in the UK and Europe for the past 15 years. I regularly drink raw milk and eat raw milk cheeses because that's what's available locally. Perhaps I'm simply lucky but I've never contracted any illness from these products.

More likely, it's because the cows are grass-reared animals, if Michael Pollan is correct in his book 'The Omnivore's Dilemma'. Their natural stomach flora is inhospitable to different bacteria, and it's only when they're fed in CAFOs that the acidity levels change and allow for large colonies of bacteria to flourish.

In fact the only person I know who's recently contract C. pylori is a vegan man I work with. As he's meat- and lactose-free, doctors couldn't understand how he'd contracted it.