Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Comment on potential hazards of raw milk consumption.

I was recently asked for comment on the tragic death of a youngster in Australia, apparently caused by consumption of raw milk.  I was given only 200 words to get the message across.  Rather than go over all of the arguments again, I have reproduced my comments below:

The recent tragic death of a 3-year old infant and serious illness of four other children in Australia is  yet another example of the risks associated with consumption of raw milk.

Proponents of the consumption of raw milk claim that this is a natural food and has been consumed for hundreds if not thousands of years.  That is true, but ignores the fact that many diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans in the milk.

The hazards of consuming raw milk have been known for a long time. In Ontario around 1900, over 10% of all childhood tuberculosis was thought to be caused by unpasteurised milk. The rate of tuberculosis infection and many other milk-borne diseases in children fell dramatically after enactment of a law in 1938 requiring milk to be pasteurised; this was hailed as a major achievement.

The fact is that between 1998 and 2005, a total of 45 outbreaks resulting in more than 1,000 illnesses, 104 hospitalisations and two deaths due to raw milk or soft raw milk cheese were reported to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

There is some evidence that consumption of raw milk early in life can reduce the incidence of allergies.  Bacteria in the raw milk may transiently colonise the intestine, resulting in stimulation of the immune system through infection.  

In addition, when milk is digested, a variety of beneficial ‘bioactive peptides’ are released.  However, it should be noted that pasteurisation does not adversely affect the release of these peptides.

I have said this before and say it again:  Adults who decide for whatever reason to consume raw milk should consider the potential hazards and make an informed decision.  Children, who have no choice in the matter, should not be fed raw milk or soft raw milk cheeses.

The situation is a little different for hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, in which the conditions, or the process, are inhibitory to most pathogens.  Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has made the following determinations:

Extra hard raw milk cheeses pose a low to negligible risk to public health and safety as survival and growth of Campylobactyer jejuni/coli, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), Salmonella spp., Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes is very unlikely.
The selected Swiss-type raw milk cheeses were all assessed as posing a low to negligible risk to public health and safety for the general population as survival and growth of C. jejuni/coli, E. coli (EHEC), Salmonella spp. and S. aureus is very unlikely. 

Note:  The FSANZ document is comprehensive and readers should consult the report for more detail. See:

1 comment:

Thomas Klinger said...

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