Wednesday, July 23, 2008

E. coli O157:H7 Infections Linked to Raw Milk – Again

You can't keep a bad bug down!

No sooner does one E. coli O157:H7 outbreak (Nebraska Beef) wind down, than another one begins.

Barfblog and Bill Marler carried reports this morning of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Connecticut. Yesterday evening, Marler also mentioned a separate – and we hope isolated – incident of E. coli O157:H7 in Missouri. Both the Missouri and the Connecticut cases appear to be linked to consumption of raw milk.

According to an article in this morning's Hartford Courant, four people have been diagnosed with E. coli. All four drank unpasteurized milk supplied by Town Farm Dairy of Simsbury, CT. The milk was bottled on three separate dates, as indicated by "sell-by" dates of June 24, July 4 and July 16 on the containers.

Town Farm Dairy is a non-profit business, which is owned and operated by Friends of Town Farm Dairy. Until July 1st, the organization employed farmers to assist in Town Farm's day-to-day operation. When the farmers left, members of the "Friends" board and volunteers took over the milking and farming operation.

The Connecticut outbreak is just one in a long and ever-expanding list of illnesses associated with drinking raw milk or consuming food – cheese, for example – made from unpasteurized milk. Raw milk contaminated with Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter or E. coli O157:H7 has caused serious illness to – AND HAS KILLED – the very young, the elderly, pregnant women (and the babies they carried), and immuno-compromised individuals. All in the name of "healthy eating."

Ironically, one of the favorite arguments of raw milk advocates is that pasteurization destroys the enzymes that keep milk safe from bacteria. How, then, can these people explain the steady stream of outbreaks and infections traced unequivocally back to the consumption of unpasteurized milk? They can't!

The retail sale of raw milk for human consumption is legal in a number of states. Elsewhere, dairy farmers and their customers circumvent the law by adopting "cow share" programs. A customer buys a share of a cow from a farmer and, in theory, is entitled to a proportional share of the milk from that cow. In practice, the customer receives a share of pooled milk from however many producing dairy cows comprise the cow share herd. Some of the reported raw milk outbreaks have been traced back to cow share programs.

In an era of mega farms and multinational food processors, the psychological appeal of drinking locally produced, unpasteurized milk is understandable. But understandable behavior isn't necessarily safe behavior. Consumers who are drawn to the idea of drinking unpasteurized milk should examine the risks carefully before taking that first sip.

Caveat vorador – let the consumer beware – should be the raw milk watchword.

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