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Raw Milk Linked to E. Coli

Jun 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Researchers warn that consumers should not consume raw—unpasteurized—milk or raw milk products over concerns of increased risk of E. coli 0157:H7 and other foodborne infections.  The researchers had been studying a number of cases involving children in California who had been hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome in September 2006.

At that time, the California Department of Public Health was notified that two children had been hospitalized with the syndrome, one of the most common causes of sudden, short-term kidney failure in children.  In both cases, the children had ingested raw milk in the week before they became ill.  One child was confirmed to have contracted E. coli O157:H7 infection.  This was followed by four additional cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection in children who had consumed raw cow milk or raw cow colostrum produced by the same dairy.  The research findings were published in Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Food safety officials say raw milk has sickened hundreds of people with Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other harmful and potentially fatal bacteria.  According to the CDC, raw milk or raw milk products were implicated in 45 food-borne illness outbreaks that resulted in over 1,000 cases of illness in the United States from 1998 to May 2005; two deaths also occurred.  Because illnesses caused by raw milk continue to occur, additional efforts are needed to educate consumers and farmers about this issue, the study authors said.

In 1938, milk was the cause of 25 percent of all food- and water-related sickness.  With the introduction of universal pasteurization—long considered one of the most successful public health endeavors of the last century—that number fell to one percent by 1993.  Despite this, a growing number of dairy owners have been selling raw milk—some illegally—as part of the growing natural food movement.

Some believe raw milk contains organisms that treat all manner of maladies, including digestive problems, asthma, and autism and feel raw milk offers greater benefits because it allegedly does not contain chemicals and hormones found in many dairy products.  This growing contingent says the heat necessary for pasteurization kills healthy natural proteins and enzymes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagrees and insists pasteurization destroys harmful bacteria without significantly changing milk's nutritional value and also extends its shelf life.  The FDA has long warned against the inherent dangers of consuming raw milk and has begun looking into raw milk purveyors to determine if such farmers are selling raw milk legally given the large number of regulations regarding how raw milk can sold and over concerns of food borne illnesses. Currently, it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in 22 states.  The other states allow raw milk sales within their borders; the FDA bans sales across state lines.  "Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone for any reason," said John Sheehan, head of the FDA's dairy office. "It is an inherently dangerous product."


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