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Study: Raw Milk Poses Risks, No Benefits

Dec 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP A new study has concluded that consuming unpasteurized milk poses a variety of risks, but offers no benefits.  Science Daily is reporting that the January 1, 2009 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases has published a review that looks at the dangers of drinking raw milk, a trendy food item that is rising in popularity and is linked to growing disease outbreaks in the United States.

According to Science Daily, when milk and dairy products are consumed raw, they can be tainted with dangerous, often deadly, bacteria, causing serious health problems.  As a matter-of-fact, said Science Daily, about 5.2 food poisoning outbreaks are linked to raw milk annually in the U.S. from 1993 to 2006.  This is more than twice as many as the prior 19 years said co-authors of the study—Jeffrey T. LeJeune and Päivi J. Rajala-Schultz of the College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus, Ohio, reported Science Daily.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have indicated that over 800 people in the U.S. have falling ill from either drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk since 1998.

Science Daily reports that the study authors conclude that contamination can occur at a variety of points including during milk collection, processing, distribution, or storage.  Also of note, reports Science Daily, an array of pathogens can be found in the “dairy farm environment”; this can, in turn, taint dairy cows’ teat skin, which contaminates the milk.  As an example, explains Science Daily, Salmonella and E. coli have been found in pooled milk collected from farms.  Science Daily also notes that, since 2005, a variety of food borne pathogenic outbreaks—salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and E. coli—have been linked to the consumption of raw milk.  The FDA explains that raw milk is derived from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill off its harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and also, Listeria, which is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies, the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or being treated for HIV/AIDs and hepatitis.

As of 2006, selling raw milk is illegal in 26 states; however, the study authors point out that raw milk devotees have, for instance, entered into “cow-share” programs in which they fund the cow’s upkeep and care in exchange for raw milk, reports Science Daily.  Advocates argue that milk that has not undergone pasteurization can cure or prevent a wide variety of diseases; no scientific evidence backs this theory, said Science Daily.

According to the FDA, pasteurization involves heating milk to a specific temperature for specific time periods, which kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.  And, notes the FDA, research does not reveal any “meaningful difference” in the nutritional values of pasteurized and milk.

According to the FDA, while pasteurizing milk does kill harmful bacteria, it does not cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions since both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in those sensitive to milk proteins; does not reduce milk’s nutritional value; and does not mean that milk should be left unrefrigerated.  Most importantly, says the FDA, raw milk does not kill deadly bacteria on its own and requires pasteurization to ensure these germs are removed.

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