Friday, February 22, 2008

Raw Milk Strikes Again...And Again...And Again

Earlier this week, the Kansas Department of Agriculture alerted residents of the Garden City area not to eat home-made soft cheese being offered for sale in the area. The cheese, which was made from raw milk by an unlicensed individual, is contaminated with Salmonella.

The maker of the cheese sold it to neighbors, to co-workers at a local Tyson plant, and to two stores in the area. The Salmonella contamination was uncovered as part of a Kansas pilot project to probe the safety of domestic and imported food in the state.

This is the second recent consumer alert associated with raw dairy products in Kansas. Last fall, raw milk was the source of two outbreaks of Campylobacter gastroenteritis in the state. Nineteen people became ill after drinking raw milk purchased from a dairy in one part of the state, and 68 people were infected with Campylobacter after eating cheese produced from raw milk donated to a community celebration by a second dairy. Two of the victims of the second outbreak needed hospitalization.

Pennsylvania also reported an outbreak of food-borne disease associated with drinking raw milk and eating cheese made from raw milk in early 2007. This time, the culprit was Salmonella Typhimurium. Twenty-nine consumers fell victim to the contaminated milk, which was confirmed as the source of the outbreak when the DNA fingerprint of Salmonella Typhimurium from the milk was a perfect match to the fingerprint of the Salmonella recovered from some of the victims.

Raw milk advocates continue to deny the risks of drinking unpasteurized milk and of eating dairy products made from unpasteurized milk. Some of their rationalizations can be found in comments added to my posts of December 19th and December 20th.

According to an article in Time Magazine last March, dairy products accounted for 168 outbreaks of food-borne illness between 1990 and 2004. Nearly 1/3 of the outbreaks were due to consumption of raw milk or dairy products made from raw milk, even though raw milk products represent a very small fraction of the total dairy market. That, alone, speaks volumes for the relative risk of consuming raw versus pasteurized dairy products.

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