The Center for Disease Control reported last week that most disease outbreaks involving dairy products were caused by raw milk. Raw milk can still be legally sold in Connecticut and is available at a number of local farms.
An analysis of data for such outbreaks showed that unpasteurized milk products were 150 times more likely to be the cause of outbreaks than pasteurized milk. They also noted that states in which raw milk was legal had twice the risk of such outbreaks than states that prohibited raw milk.
The study analyzed outbreaks from 1993 through 2006 in all 50 states.
The study included 121 dairy-related disease outbreaks, which caused 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations and three deaths. In 60 percent of the outbreaks (73 outbreaks) state health officials determined raw milk products were the cause. Nearly all of the hospitalizations (200 of 239) were in those sickened in the raw milk outbreaks.
Raw milk has developed a certain cachet among some organic food advocates originally because of its lack of added bovine growth hormone. Today this is much less of an issue, because it is quite easy to find pasteurized milk that does not contain rBGH.
In addition, a number of myths have grown up about the benefits of raw milk, all of which have been debunked here at foodsafety.gov. Raw milk offers no particular health benefits and it is not better for those with lactose intolerance.
Most important, there is no way to tell whether raw milk is contaminated by its odor. In addition, the bacteria found in contaminated raw milk (Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter, or Salmonella) cause far more serious illnesses than those in contaminated pasteurized milk.
The CDC also points out
The presence of germs in raw milk is unpredictable. The number of disease-causing germs in the raw milk may be too low to make a person sick for a long time, and later high enough to make the same person seriously ill. For some people, drinking contaminated raw milk just once could make them really sick. Even if you trust the farmer and your store, raw milk is never a guaranteed safe product. Drinking raw milk means taking a real risk of getting very sick.
People sometimes claim that raw milk has a better taste than pasteurized milk. In some cases, milk may be pasteurized using UHT (high temperature methods) that may impart a cooked taste. If your milk has such a taste, consider switching brands. And for some of the very best-tasting milk, consider looking for batch-pasteurized milk, such as that from Arethusa Farms in Connecticut.
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