Food safetyCDC study finds raw milk is most likely source of dairy outbreaks

Published 28 February 2012

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds thatraw milk is 150 times more likely to be the cause offood-borne illnesses than pasteurized milk; a growing number of states have permitted the sale of raw milk

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds thatraw milk is 150 times more likely to be the cause of food-borne illnesses than pasteurized milk. Furthermore these outbreaks result in a hospitalization rate thirteen times higher than those involving pasteurized dairy products.

When you consider that no more than 1 percent of the milk consumed in the United States is raw, it’s pretty startling to see that more of the outbreaks were caused by raw milk than pasteurized,” Barbara Mahon, CDC’s deputy director of enteric diseases and the senior author of the paper, told USA Today.

Of the 121 outbreaks linked to dairy products, which were known to be pasteurized or raw, 60 percent were the result of raw, or unpasteurized, milk, whereas 39 percent were caused by pasteurized milk.

Dairy products typically undergo a process called flash pasteurization, where milk is heated to 161 degrees for fifteen seconds to kill any harmful microorganisms. Under federal regulations, unpasteurized milk cannot be sold or traded across state lines, but a growing number of states have permitted the sale of raw milk.

The CDC study, which examined thirteen years of medical records and is the largest review of its kind, found that there were twice as many outbreaks in states where the sale raw milk is permitted compared to those where it is illegal.

In defense of raw milk, proponents say that it is healthier to consume unpasteurized dairy as the heating process destroys critical vitamins and enzymes.

Sally Fallon, the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a raw milk advocacy group, told USA Today, that drinking unpasteurized milk can reverse “allergies, asthma, and behavior problems in children; and digestive disorders, arthritis, osteoporosis, and even cancer in adults.”

In contrast, Mahon maintains that based on the study and other medical research that unpasteurized milk poses a public health risk.

It is very clear that raw milk is a risk to human health. I know that there are people who believe that it has health giving or curative properties, but I have never seen any studies that support that, and it’s widely discredited in the public health community,” she said.

In addition, the study found that those sickened by raw milk outbreaks were younger than those affected by pasteurized milk incidents. Approximately 60 percent of individuals sickened by raw milk were under the age of twenty, compared to 23 percent for pasteurized milk.

It’s just tragic when, for example, a parent gives a child raw milk because they’re trying to do something for them and they end up making them sick,” Mahon said.

Pennsylvania is currently battlingthe worst raw milk outbreak in its history. So far more than seventy-eight individuals have been sickened by unpasteurized milk linked to a dairy in central Pennsylvania.

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