The risks of drinking raw milk

I’ve been getting into a bit of a discussion thread on my Facebook page after posting a link to an article at FoodWorld, about a study which reviewed outbreaks caused raw milk–milk that has not been pasteurized to kill disease-causing germs –in the United States that were reported to CDC from 2007-2012.

Interestingly, I’ve also become aware of a the recent scientific opinion on the public health risks related to the consumption of raw milk. The research was conducted by the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) panel on Biological Hazards and the full opinion can be found here. [EFSA Journal 2015;13(1):3940 [95 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2015.3940]. In summary, the experts reveal some rather startling diseases can be caught from drinking raw milk.

Between 2007 and 2013, 27 outbreaks were due to the consumption of raw milk. Most of them – 21 – were caused by Campylobacter, one was caused by Salmonella, two by STEC (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli) and three by tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV).  A large majority of the outbreaks were due to raw cow’s milk, while a few of them originated from raw goat’s milk.

The Panel made a series of recommendations about improving the evidence-base and, most importantly, improving risk communication to consumers so that the hazards associated with consuming raw milk, where it remains legal to place it on the market, are better known and understood. You’ll be pleased to know that Scotland is the one enlightened part of the UK where the sale of raw milk is illegal. Funnily enough, Scotland no longer has outbreaks of disease associated with raw milk. That’s a public health win, because the purchasing decisions are generally made by well-meaning but ill-informed adults and the disease burden is mostly on young children and the elderly.

For a summary (up to 2012) of the situation in the UK regarding the consumption of raw milk and the consequent disease burden, you can read a paper submitted to the Board of the Food Standards Agency. It includes tables on the outbreaks in England & Wales (1992-2011) and Northern Ireland (1984-2011).

One thought on “The risks of drinking raw milk

  1. Pingback: Farmer says refrigerating raw milk as soon as it leaves the goat helps kill potentially harmful bacteria. | Patrick Mackie

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