By: Kate Delany
The topic of raw milk has come up again.
Washington, among other states in the United States, is grappling with this issue once again. In October of this year, a Washington raw milk dairy had their license revoked for refusing to recall their product when state officials notified them that lab tests detected Salmonella bacteria. According to coverage of the issue by the Food Safety Network, Pride and Joy Dairy owners Allen and Cheryl Voortman have insisted that an independent laboratory found samples of their product negative for pathogens. The state disputes this, citing the two Pride and Joy customers who fell sick after drinking the raw milk. The dairy owners contend that they are being unfairly targeted by the state, a claim they also made last February when tests showed e. coli in their raw milk.
Other States Also Concerned
Washington is not alone in dealing with this issue. In late November of this year, the raw dairy company Udder Milk was issued a cease-and-desist order by the state of New Jersey for illegally distributing raw milk. In September, a New Jersey woman contracted Brucella RB51, a rare but serious bacterial illness. If left untreated Brucella RB51 infection can result a long-term health problems such as arthritis, heart problems, spleen or liver enlargement and sometimes nervous system disease like meningitis. Brucella RB51 can also cause serious illness in those with weakened immune systems and can cause miscarriages. It is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk or raw milk products in the state of New Jersey although a bipartisan bill to approve a raw milk pilot program been proposed to the NJ State Assembly on three different occasions. State epidemiologist Tina Tan has alerted residents that “in general, unpasteurized milk may contain dangerous bacteria.”
Raw milk concerns have also arisen in Texas. In September of 2017, a Texas resident became infected with Brucella RB51 after drinking raw milk from K-Bar Dairy, which sells raw milk and raw milk products. According to the CDC, “Purchase records and illness reports indicate additional people in Texas and some as far away as California and North Dakota may need antibiotics to prevent or treat infection.” Though K-Bar Dairy did cooperate with the investigation, the dairy did not keep customer contact information as they are legally obligated to do in case an outbreak occurs. Because of the incomplete record keeping, it’s unclear how far the infection may have spread and how many more may be unknowingly carrying this pathogen which can cause adverse chronic health outcomes.
Standard, commercially available milk is pasteurized, a process that involves heating the liquid to 145°F (63°C) for at least 30 minutes or 161°F (72°C) for 15 seconds. This is done to give the milk products a longer shelf life by destroying undesirable enzymes and bacteria. Two other types of milk pasteurization frequently used as ultra-pasteurization, in which milk is heated to 280° F (138° C) for at least 2 seconds. Ultra-High-Temperature Pasteurization heats milk to 302°F for 1 or 2 seconds. For each of these methods, destroying pathogenic bacteria and elongating shelf life are the core goals.
Proponents of raw milk assert that milk left unprocessed results in a better tasting and more healthful product. The Campaign for Real Milk alleges that “[p]asteurization warps and distorts the enzymes and other proteins in milk so that the body thinks they are foreign, and has to mount an immune response. This makes pasteurized milk very difficult to digest.” Other raw dairy advocates suggest that consuming raw milk can reduce allergies, boost your immune system and improve your skin. To date, scientists have said most of these claims are unproven.
Those that consume raw milk and dairy products likely do so in the name of supporting local or small businesses and partaking of natural products. However, as Kelly Morrow, RN, associate professor of nutrition at Bastyr University and Bastyr Center for Natural Health told Prevention, “As a healthcare provider, I wouldn’t recommend it. People are playing roulette when they drink raw milk. It’s like drinking water right out of a mountain stream: Most of the time it’s fine, but every once in awhile you get a bad bug.”
According to CDC data, the number of outbreaks associated with raw milk is climbing, from 30 cases during 2007-2009, to 51 during 2010-2012. Campylobacter, e coli and Salmonella are the most common pathogens. Despite the health risks associated with unpasteurized dairy, demand for the product has increased. The CDC urges states to engage in more effective law enforcement of this issue. Only time will tell if they heed the warning.
At present, raw milk is legal for retail sale in only 11 states, though 12 other states permit the sale of raw milk exclusively on the farm site. The state of Oregon makes special exceptions of very small farms and in Colorado, raw milk is permitted through cow or goat share. It is still against federal rules to sell raw milk across state lines.