Routine testing of and standards for raw milk do not ensure that the raw milk is free of pathogens

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a report about the 2014 outbreak of Campylobacter infections in Utah associated with raw milk consumption. In May 2014, the Utah Public Health Laboratory (UPHL) notified the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) that three patients tested positive for Campylobacter jejuni infections that had the same pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns. All three patients had consumed raw milk from “dairy A.” This facility was identified as Ropelato Dairy in Ogden, Utah at the time.

About 3% of the U.S. population drinks raw milk, in part because of perceived health benefits. But this product is often contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Campylobacter is ubiquitous in the environment, and is very difficult to culture from milk since it is so fragile. In addition, the report states “routine testing of and standards for raw milk do not ensure that the raw milk is free of pathogens. There is a lack of correlation between bacterial counts and the presence of pathogens in raw milk.

Altogether, 99 cases of Campylobacter jejuni infection were identified from May 9, 2014 through November 6, 2014. This outbreak had serious consequences for those sickened. Patients A and B were a parent and child who got sick in May 2014. Both were hospitalized. Patient A died one week later of multisystem organ failure, related, in part “to gastroenteritis and underlying medical conditions.” Overall, 10 patients were hospitalized in this outbreak. People over the age of 65 who contract Campylobacter infections are at risk for developing Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which can cause permanent paralysis.

A paper published in Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Wisconsin in 2015 states, “just before World War II, in 1938, it was estimated that milkborne outbreaks constituted 25% of all disease outbreaks (related to food/water) in the United States. Today, with the widespread use of pasteurization and other sanitation procedures outlined in the Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, milk and fluid milk products account for less than 1% of reported outbreaks caused by food/water consumption.”

The report ends with this statement, “consumers should be aware of dangers associated with consuming unpasteurized milk. Current raw milk testing standards do not readily detect contamination; thus, the safest alternative is to consume pasteurized milk.”