Harmful bacteria found in raw, unpasteurized milk have the potential to cause serious health consequences that have the possibility to turn fatal. Researchers from the Minnesota Department of Health said recent studies examining raw milk’s detrimental effect on our heath are only “the tip of the iceberg” after around one in six Minnesotans fell ill after trying unpasteurized milk over the span of a decade.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2008 that recommended only appropriately prepared breast milk or infant formula for children below the age of 6 months and pasteurized milk or juice for children who are ready for other food. The list of people asked especially to avoid raw milk extended to children, elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.
A research team led by Trisha Robinson, epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, combed through over 20,000 reports of gastrointestinal illness across the state. Minnesota is one of only 30 states in the U.S. that permits the sale of raw milk, USA Today reported. Of 118,883 Minnesotans who drink raw milk, 17 percent fell ill, Robinson and her colleagues found.
“Some raw milk advocates fail to acknowledge the elevated health risk associated with raw milk consumption and minimize the significance of reported outbreaks,” Robinson told NBC News. “In doing so, these advocates convey a false sense of the safety of raw milk to those who are considering consuming this product, and this sense of safety discourages a balanced assessment of the potential risks and benefits involved."
Between 2001 and 2010, 21 people in Minnesota fell sick in the midst of five confirmed raw milk outbreaks. Researchers identified 530 additional cases involving people who admitted to consuming raw milk before they were infected with bacteria and parasites found in raw milk such as Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E.coli, and Salmonella.
According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 60 percent of dairy-related illness outbreaks reported to the CDC were connected to raw milk between 1993 and 2006. Around 75 percent of these outbreaks occur in states like Minnesota where the sale of raw milk has been approved. Raw milk drinkers are up to 13 times more likely to be hospitalized for dairy-related illness compared to people who drink pasteurized milk.
“Outbreaks associated with raw milk occur frequently and receive a lot of media attention, but our study shows that sporadic cases of illnesses associated with raw milk consumption far outnumber cases associated with recognized outbreaks,” Robinson told NBC News. “We hope that our findings will help inform potential raw milk consumers when thinking about drinking raw milk or giving it to their children.”
Developed in the 1920s to reduce incidences of human illness and contamination, pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a temperature that eradicates food-borne illness-causing bacteria in milk. Although cases of illnesses and outbreaks associated with pasteurized milk have been reported, they are considered rare and are usually caused by the reintroduction of germs after pasteurization. Pasteurizing milk does not strip dairy of its beneficial nutrients.