Campylobacter, year after year, is one of the two most common foodborne bacterial causes of gastroenteritis in the United States, with Salmonella being the other. No other species of bacteria – not E. coli O157:H7, not Listeria monocytogenes – even comes close.
Campylobacter, which can be carried in the intestines of birds and mammals, usually is spread through fecal contamination of food or water. Most human infections result from the drinking contaminated water, eating raw or undercooked contaminated meat or poultry, or consuming contaminated raw milk.
The World Health Organization has this to say about Campylobacter and raw milk:
"There are no proven intervention methods to reduce Campylobacter in cattle farms. Prevention of the contamination of raw milk on the farm is not consistently possible; therefore, consumption of raw milk should be avoided."
This statement on the part of WHO is reinforced regularly by the detection of Campylobacter in raw milk sold to retail consumers – in stores, where legal, or through cow-share programs – in the United States. And that message is further underscored by the periodic cases of Campylobacter gastroenteritis that are traced back to contaminated raw milk. Here are just a few recent examples.
- On December 17, 2007, the State of Washington warned consumers against consuming raw milk with a 12/20 "sell by" date from the Pleasant Valley Dairy, after detecting Campylobacter in a sample of the milk. The milk was linked to five cases of Campylobacter gastroenteritis.
- In April 2007, New York State issued a recall of raw milk from the Phil Stauderman farm after finding Campylobacter in the milk. There were no illnesses specifically associated with that recall.
- In April 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture warned consumers about Campylobacter-contaminated raw milk from the Amos B. King dairy farm in that state.
- In August 2008, an outbreak of Campylobacter gastroenteritis that caused 15 people to fall sick, convinced Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms, a northern California dairy, to end its raw milk program. One of the victims was hospitalized with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a form of paralysis that occasionally results from Campylobacter infections.
And today, the California Department of Food and Agriculture advised consumers that it had detected Campylobacter in Grade A raw cream from Organic Pastures of Fresno County. The contaminated cream, which bears a code date of Sep 12, is the subject of a statewide recall and quarantine.
This is not the first time that Organic Pastures has been the subject of a recall or regulatory action. The company's raw dairy products have been linked in the past to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, and have also been the subject of a recall due to Listeria monocytogenes. And the owner of Organic Pastures also has crossed swords with FDA for attempting to contravene the federal regulation against interstate transport of raw milk for retail sale.
As we've pointed out several times, consuming raw milk exposes individuals to an unnecessary risk of infection with Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7. Young children are especially susceptible to severe – sometimes life-threatening – illnesses when infected by one of these pathogens.
Think before you drink.