Raw Milk is Ongoing Hazard, CDC Warns Public Health Workers
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention sent a letter to state and territorial public health officials with information and resources on the risks of consuming raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products.
Raw milk is a recognized source of severe infections from pathogens such as E. coli O157, Campylobacter and Salmonella, but pasteurization prevents infections.
“Adherence to good hygienic practices during milking can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of milk contamination,” states the May 9 letter signed by Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “Pasteurization is the only way to ensure that fluid milk products do not contain harmful bacteria.”
It’s not just CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommending that all animal milk be pasteurized. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians agree.
Pasteurization of milk became routine in the U.S. starting in the 1920s and was widespread by 1950. Transporting raw milk across state lines to sell directly to consumers is prohibited today, but it is available within many states.
“CDC data shows that the rate of raw milk-associated outbreaks is 2.2 times higher in states in which the sale of raw milk is legal compared with states where sale of raw milk is illegal,” reads Tauxe’s letter.
According to the CDC National Outbreak Reporting System, between 2007 and 2012, there were 81 outbreaks of infections due to consumption of raw milk, resulting in 979 illnesses. In addition, 59 percent of the outbreaks involved at least one person under the age of five.
Most infections were caused by Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or Salmonella bacteria, which come from cattle that appear healthy. Severe, long-term consequences of these infections include hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in kidney failure, and Guillan-Barré syndrome, which can result in paralysis.
“To protect the health of the public, state regulators should continue to support pasteurization and consider further restricting or prohibiting the sale and distribution of raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products in their states,” Tauxe wrote.
Click here to read the full letter and see the list of resources for consumers, public health officials and health care providers.