Raw Milk Food Poisoning Illnesses On The Rise: CDC Report

A new study warns that the legalization of raw milk sales throughout United States has resulted in a quadrupling of the average number of raw milk food poisoning illnesses reported over the last few years, accounting for nearly 1,000 hospitalizations. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a new study in the Emerging Infectious Disease Journal (EID) on December 10, warning that consumption of raw, unpasteurized milk may make consumers more susceptible to harmful organisms and food poisoning.

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria by using the pasteurization process. In pasteurized milk, the milk is heated to a specific temperature for a set period of time to kill harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as salmonella, E. coli, listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, brucellosis and other harmful foodborne illnesses.

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Consumption of raw milk has become an increasingly popular trend, due to the belief that there are additional health benefits. However, the CDC and FDA advertise that pasteurization does not reduce milk’s nutritional value and only kills harmful bacteria.

According to the CDC’s study, the average annual number of outbreaks due to drinking raw milk has quadrupled since 2006. The study indicates the last similar study done in 2006 recorded the annual average of raw milk outbreaks between 1993 and 2006 was three. That number has since multiplied with the average number of annual outbreaks between 2007 and 2012 being almost 14.

The CDC indicates that individuals who consume raw milk are 150 times more likely to suffer foodborne illness and those illnesses result in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.

The report also found that raw milk related outbreaks account for about 5% of all foodborne outbreaks throughout the Unites States. The most recent data showed that between 2007 and 2012 there were roughly 81 outbreaks across 26 states. These outbreaks resulted in nearly 1,000 sickened consumers resulting in 73 requiring hospitalization and medical treatment.

In 2010, four people fell ill in Minnesota after drinking unpasteurized milk contaminated with E. coli, including an infant who was in critical condition. Another outbreak was recorded originating from a Pennsylvania farm in 2012 when 35 people in four states suffered from food poisoning after drinking raw milk.

Sicknesses from consuming raw milk can vary depending upon the consumer. Those who drink contaminated raw milk may suffer symptoms that are common to Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria which are vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and body ache.

As usual with the common foodborne illnesses, those with weakened immune systems such as children, the elderly or pregnant women, may be more at risk. In some cases the infections can become lethal if the infection moves through the blood stream and into other bodily organs.

The sale of unpasteurized milk has been regulated since its introduction in 1864, but states are allowed to regulate the sale of it whether it be legal for retail sale or through cow-shares, which allow people to pay a fee for a cow’s care in return for some of the raw milk. There are a total of 30 states that allow the sale of raw milk with the last eight being added since 2004.

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