Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yet more on unpasteurized milk

This post was updated on 30th April, 2007.

In the previous post I mentioned the potential for contraction or spread of disease that could result from the consumption of raw milk or products made from unpasteurized milk. In that case the consumers may have contracted salmonellosis from the milk.

This week the Grey Bruce Health Unit in Ontario, Canada, issued a press statement, warning pregnant women to avoid consumption of raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products. The warning was issued to help prevent listeriosis infection in newborn babies. The original release can be found at:

Non-pregnant humans are highly resistant to the infection, though if they do become infected, the symptoms can be very serious, including meningitis and sepsis (invasion of the blood or tissues by bacteria or their toxins). Pregnant women may contract Listeriosis, but show no serious symptoms beyond mild influenza-like signs. Their foetus, however, may be infected, resulting in abortion or stillbirth. If the infant is infected during delivery, symptoms of meningitis begin 1 to 4 weeks later.

The Grey Bruce Health Unit news release stated that it had received a laboratory-confirmed report of an infant who contracted the disease. The most likely source of infection was said to be the mother’s consumption of raw milk cheese.

The release went on to say that pregnant women are at a 17 times higher risk than the general population of contracting the disease.

My personal and professional opinion is that any perceived benefits of drinking raw milk are far outweighed by the risks, both to the individual and to others in the same household. This is supported by scientific evidence: In the last decade the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has documented more than a thousand cases of food-borne illness and two deaths, all caused by unpasteurized dairy products. I have advised my pregnant daughter-in-law to avoid raw milk and raw milk products.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

More on unpasteurized milk

The arguments about the desirability or otherwise of drinking unpasteurized milk continue. It seems that its proponents will hear nothing said against the practice; many scientists and doctors provide comment, often supported by case studies, that suggest that there are significant and serious risks associated with drinking unpasteurized milk.

The following report was posted recently on the Food Safety Network mailing list on behalf of Doug Powell of Kansas State University:
WDBJ7 News
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Health Department is, according to this story, warning consumers not to drink raw milk from a York County dairy farm after confirming that two people who drank it last month were sickened by salmonella.Health Secretary Calvin Johnson was cited as saying the state Agriculture Department has also obtained three samples from Stump Acres Dairy in New Salem that tested positive for salmonella.

Of course, the facts that two consumers of the product contracted salmonellosis and that samples taken from the dairy tested positive do not prove that the unpasteurized milk was the source, though detection of the same serotype in patients and the milk would be very strong evidence. However, the correlation between raw milk consumption and illness is hard to ignore.

There are sometimes suggestions that the pasteurization process is too severe. The process was originally designed to eliminate Salmonella, but was later modified to be slightly more rigorous to ensure that Coxiella burnetti (a rickettsia-like organism which is the cause of Q-fever - a febrile disease of man and which sometimes has serious sequellae), was eliminated. There is currently some investigation of the time/temperature relationships in milk pasteurization to see if there is a possibility of making the process less severe.