December 17, 2008

Incidence of raw milk illness on the rise

The sale of raw milk was illegal in 26 states as of 2006, but those who oppose pasteurization have found ways to circumvent the law, U.S. reseachers say.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, finds that an average of 5.2 outbreaks per year linked to raw milk occurred in the United States from 1993 to 2006 -- more than double the rate in the previous 19 years.

Study co-authors Jeffrey T. LeJeune and Paivi J. Rajala-Schultz of the College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus say one way is for people to participate in cow-share programs. Participants pay for the upkeep of a cow and receive raw milk in exchange, rather than buying raw milk outright.

Raw milk advocates say unpasteurized milk cures or prevents disease, but no scientific evidence supports this notion and testing raw milk, which has been suggested as an alternative to pasteurization, cannot ensure a product that is 100 percent safe and free of pathogens, the researchers say.

Many pathogens can be found in the dairy farm environment, which can contaminate the teat skin of dairy cows and consequently the milk at the time when cows are milked. For example, Salmonella and E. coli have been reported in pooled milk collected from farms. Outbreaks of salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and E. coli related to raw milk consumption have been reported since 2005, the researchers say.