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Food Safety Network Blog

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Raw deal

Georgia Frankenberg, registered sanitarian, milk producer and former connoisseur, asks, "We won’t allow our children to eat raw meat, raw eggs or -- heaven forbid -- raw poultry. Why would we allow them to drink raw milk?"

Frankenberg ended the raw milk flow to herself and her young son following the infamous Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993.

Today, 28 states permit the sale of raw milk and a number of consumers are willing to pay between $4.50 and $20 a gallon for what they perceive as the creamier taste and finer flavor of raw milk -- some reportedly spending as much as $30 to $50 a week to ensure a steady supply for their families.

On December 10, 2005, the Clark County Combined Health Unit and the Ohio State Department of Agriculture were alerted about two hospitalized children infected with Salmonella having consumed raw, unpasteurized milk purchased at a dairy-restaurant.
Selling raw, unpasteurized milk in Ohio is illegal. But that doesn’t stop enterprising folks from selling the illicit product under the guise of pet food. A good rule of thumb: do not feed your children pet food.

Earlier this year in Tennessee, the House Agriculture Committee defeated a bill that would have made raw, unpasteurized milk sales legal in a 7-5 vote.
Department of Agriculture general counsel Patricia Clark stated, “Other states that allow raw milk sales have had problems. An unknowing population could make very bad choices.”
In response to the bill that was “bottled up” in Tennessee in April, its sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada said, “It’s just interesting that we allow unhealthy habits like smoking, but we don’t allow for the sales of raw milk, which is healthy.”

Except we don't really allow little kids to smoke; and raw milk can be dangerous.

In January, the Washington State Department of Agriculture released the results of its investigation into an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 18 people, all of whom had consumed raw milk from an unlicensed dairy. Two kids almost died. Milk and environmental swaps taken from the milking area of the farm in question tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 -- the same strain found in the human illness case samples.
While most people recover from E.coli O157:H7, up to 10 per cent of cases go on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is characterized by kidney failure. It's not fun.

Washington is one of the 28 states that permits the sale of raw milk, so long as producers and processors are licensed to ensure that it’s safe from potentially lethal bacteria; in other words, monthly testing of milk and inspection of the farm and milk bottling room. The implicated farm was never licensed. In its defense the farm’s owners contend that food safety rules didn’t apply to them because they sold “cow-shares” to customers who bought a share in the farm -- not milk.

To date the owners of Dee Creek Farm, the Woodland dairy that caused the E. coli outbreak swear that they were not selling milk, and therefore not subject to license and testing.

New legislation was enacted in Washington State in February to safeguard public health by closing the loophole that allows people to purchase one or more shares in a milk cow, goat or sheep from an unlicensed dairy in return for a portion of the milk produced. Cow-shares must be licensed by the state. A first violation is a misdemeanor and a subsequent violation a gross misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $5,000 and up to a year in prison.

Washington state health officials note there was an E. coli outbreak in 2004 involving three people in Whatcom County tied to illegal raw milk, and in 2003, three people in Yakima County and eight in Skagit County became ill from tainted milk.


In 2005, four people including two children in Canada were hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps caused by E. coli O157:H7 after drinking raw milk purchased from the back of a vehicle.


Earlier last year the New York State health department warned against consumption of some imported Mexican cheeses made from unpasteurized milk after identifying 35 cases from 2001 to 2004, including one infant death in 2004, attributed to Mycobacterium bovis, a form of TB found in cattle.

There are too many other such cases to mention.

Regardless, raw, unpasteurized milk has been gaining in popularity as part of the growing organic and natural foods movement. Proponents say raw milk is healthier and better tasting than pasteurized milk.

Raw milk drinkers believe the pasteurized milk found on grocery store shelves lacks the essential enzymes and nutrients necessary to absorb calcium -- yet evidence-based research shows this is simply not the case. The only things lacking in pasteurized milk are the bacteria that make people -- especially kids -- seriously ill.
While the premiums people pay for raw milk does little to ensure a safe product, with regulations that establish standards for the proper testing of milk and inspection of the farm and milk bottling room, it may be possible to offer a safe, unpasteurized product to the consuming public. But the onus is on producers to show the rest of us that data.

Adults, do whatever you think works, but please, don't impose your dietary regimes on your kids. Flowery words don't do much for kids in the hospital.
---
Dr. Doug Powell
dpowell@ksu.edu

3 Comments:

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Alison said...

Very insightful blog. I was unaware of raw milk until I read this article. It's amazing what some people will do and eat in the name of "organic".

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Ben Chapman said...

Alison -- check out our main site at www.foodsafetynetwork.ca.

and an op-ed at:
http://www.foodsafetynetwork.ca/en/article-details.php?a=3&c=14&sc=98&id=872

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Alison said...

Ben, I have checked out this site. I especially like the teacher feature to help bring science into the classroom.

 

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