Saturday, February 16, 2008

It's Not Always The Raw Milk

I am not a booster of raw milk. As I have posted in the past (click on the "raw milk" topic to access those posts), drinking raw milk can be a very risky business. But I am the first to acknowledge that pasteurized milk – and dairy products made from pasteurized milk – can also be the source of food-borne disease.

This past week's issue of Eurosurveillance reports on an outbreak of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in Belgium that has been traced to ice cream made from pasteurized milk. Five children contracted HUS and seven other people suffered severe diarrhea. The ice cream was consumed at the farm where it was produced, and at two birthday parties.

Identical strains of E. coli O145 and E. coli O25 were isolated from the leftover ice cream, fecal samples from patients, fecal samples from calves and soiled straw from the farm. Investigators have determined that the milk used to produce the ice cream had been pasteurized correctly, and that none of the victims had come into direct contact with the farm animals.

The report concludes that the most likely cause of the outbreak was cross-contamination, perhaps as a result of a dairy worker having contact with the farm animals and then accidentally transferring the pathogens from the animals to the ice cream.

This outbreak underscores the need for constant vigilance and for attention to proper hygiene and sanitation in all food processing operations, regardless of size. It is also a reminder that pasteurization is just a preventative – not a panacea.

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