Pasteurization is a process where the product is heated to a certain temperature for a sustained period of time to kill dangerous bacteria, such as Campylobacter or Listeria. In Missouri, raw milk can legally be purchased directly from farms but not sold in retailers. In other states, such as California, it can be bought from retailers and in other states, such as Tennessee, it is illegal to sell it at all. The CDC outlines the legal status of selling raw milk here. Other dairy products that undergo pasteurization to increase their safety are soft cheeses, yogurt and ice cream.
The CDC recently reported a Listeria outbreak from raw milk produced by Miller’s Organic Farm in Pennsylvania. One person in Florida died from Listeriosis believed to have come from contaminated milk from this farm. As recently as November 2015, the raw chocolate milk from this farm tested positive for Listeria, which raises the concern for on-going practices at the farm that allow for continued Listeria contamination. The investigation is on-going.
Listeria infection can range from mild symptoms to death. Persons at increased risk for foodborne illness include children younger than 5, pregnant women, persons over age 65 and anyone with a weakened immune system such as those on chemotherapy for cancer, those on certain medications for rheumatologic disorders and those with HIV or rare immune disorders. Given the lack of proof that raw milk offers any health or digestive benefit over pasteurized milk it is recommended that all consumed dairy products be pasteurized before consumption to reduce the risk of serious foodborne illness. Parents may wish to inquire about the source of milk products in the homes where their children visit if they have any suspicion the family may serve raw milk given the increased risk for illness in small children.
When sharing healthy dietary habits and advocating for less processed foods and more fresh raw fruits and vegetables we need to be careful not to suggest that everything ‘raw’ is always better, as clearly there are risks when this trend is extended without complete information.
Miller’s Organic Farm is of course not the only source of recent Listeria outbreaks. For more information about Listeria outbreaks and how to prevent infection please visit the CDC’s website.
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