Growing concern about the potential risk of Internet and vending machine sales of unpasteurized milk has the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) thinking about revising the rules.

The FSA Board, according to a news release, will decide March 20 whether the agency should review its current rules governing the sales and marketing of unpasteurized milk and cream. Although there has not been a raw-milk related outbreak in the UK in 10 years, the agency says raw milk producers in England and Wales are using “new routes of sales for their products, such as the internet and vending machines.”

Raw milk marketing policies differ throughout the UK. Sales of unpasteurized cow’s milk and cream have been prohibited in Scotland since 1983.  The ban was extended to goat’s milk and cream in 2005.

In Northern Ireland, except for two “low output” producers of raw goat’s milk, one with 18 goats and the other with 23, there are no other known retail sources of raw milk or cream.

England and Wales have about 100 registered cow operations selling raw milk for human consumption, as well as 27 registered producers of raw milk from goats, and three from sheep.

Not since 2002 have any of those raw milk producers had a product associated with an outbreak of illness. In the 10 years prior to 2002, there were 20 outbreaks — mostly of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella Typhimurium  DT12 — which sickened 242 people and sent 36 to hospitals. There were no deaths.

Except for Scotland — where all raw milk sales are banned, the UK limits sales to the farm where raw milk is produced.   

FSA also requires raw milk products to be labeled that they are “made with unpasteurized milk.”   It subjects cheese to production processes, including salting, acidification and maturation, designed to reduce risk from pathogens.

FSA recognizes that Canada, parts of the U.S. and Australia , and some states in the European Union, make it illegal to sell raw milk. “However, prohibiting sales does not prohibit consumption and this is likely to continue, especially within the farming community through private on-farm consumption,” writes Alison Gleadle, FSA’s food safety director.

Gleadle makes a case for continuing to allow sales but with controls to manage the risk.  

The FSA Board is being asked to agree that raw milk and cream continue to have inherent food safety risks, but to acknowledge some consumers still prefer those products.

If the board goes forward on March 20, FSA will reach out to stakeholders and consumers to suggest options for managing risks associated with drinking raw milk.

If it accepts restricted sales, FSA wants also to protect “vulnerable” populations that it says should not consume any raw milk.