As Louisiana lawmakers consider whether to allow on-farm sales of raw milk, health officials in Utah and Tennessee are echoing last month’s federal warning about the dangers of drinking raw milk, citing outbreaks and deaths. As many as 3 percent of the people in the United States drink raw — aka unpasteurized — milk, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which renewed its warnings about the practice last month. The proposed change to Louisiana’s law includes a provision that would require producers of raw milk to test for coliform. Data reported by Utah health officials shows such tests did not prevent or detect a deadly outbreak there in 2014. “Routine somatic cell and coliform counts of raw milk do not ensure its safety,” scientist from Utah’s health and agriculture departments reported. “Consumers should be educated that raw milk might be unsafe even if it meets routine testing standards.” The Utah warning cites a deadly outbreak in 2014 linked to raw milk from an unnamed dairy. “Dairy A” followed Utah law, submitting monthly raw milk samples to the state for somatic cell and coliform counts. The safety measure failed. From May 9 through Nov. 6, 2014, a total of 99 people, including one who died, were infected with Campylobacter jejuni that was later identified in the dairy’s raw milk and confirmed as the outbreak isolate of the pathogen, according to data from Utah’s follow-up lab tests. Fifty-nine of the victims reported drinking raw milk from “Dairy A” in the 10 days before becoming ill. The other 40 patients reported either drinking raw milk from the dairy or coming into contact with another outbreak victim. Tennessee chimes in to boost CDC’s voice Tennessee officials joined the recent chorus of public health officials and scientists warning about the potential life-threatening pathogens present in unpasteurized milk, known as raw milk. The Tennessee warning Monday came as a reinforcement to a similar caution issued last month by CDC. The CDC’s warning March 18 came after the agency discovered two Listeria monocytogenes patients — one of whom died — had been infected in 2014 by the same pathogen isolate California officials had detected in samples of raw milk from an organic dairy in Pennsylvania that had been taken to the West Coast for a conference in late 2015. Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, who is a medical doctor as well as a public health administrator, questioned whether endangering lives, especially children’s lives, is worth the “perilous risk” associated with raw milk. “In the last three years, Tennessee has experienced outbreaks associated with drinking raw milk that was not pasteurized. Notably, in 2013, nine residents under the age of nine years were sickened with E.coli O157 bacteria. Five required hospitalization for life-threatening kidney failure. Fortunately, none of the children died,” according to the Tennessee warning issued yesterday. Tennessee’s state epidemiologist Dr. Tim Jones said in the public warning that raw milk advocates who say the risk is worth it because there haven’t been a lot of illnesses reported aren’t taking into account modern diagnostic techniques. “No one really knows how many people may have been harmed by drinking raw milk because the effects can mimic other health issues, and illnesses and deaths in the past may not have been properly linked to the contaminated milk they consumed,” Jones said. Weighing in on the part of the dairy cows, veterinarian John Dunn, who directs zoonotic disease outbreaks for the Tennessee Department of Health, encouraged the public to remember basic anatomy in his raw milk warning. But he didn’t blame the cows or the dairies — it’s Mother Nature’s fault. “If you think about where milk comes out of a cow or goat, you know it’s not far where manure comes out,” said Dunn. “Even very conscientious cleaning of the udder and care while milking can’t prevent all risks of contamination during the milking process. Pasteurization kills bad bacteria that inadvertently contaminate milk and makes it safe to drink.” Third time at bat in Louisiana The potential danger of raw milk consumption is something individuals should weigh for themselves, Louisiana State Sen. Eric LaFleur contends. He is sponsoring a bill for the third time that seeks to allow on-farm sales of raw milk directly to consumers. LaFleur told The Times-Picayune newspaper he understands the safety concerns and that he “would be concerned about it and take the appropriate steps to correct it” if people die from drinking raw milk. His bill is assigned to a committee, where it died two times before. Among its provisions are:
- a 500-gallon monthly sales limit for each dairy;
- labels must include the name and address of the farm or dairy, with the seller’s contact information
- labels must carry the statement “Raw Milk: This product is fresh whole milk that has NOT been pasteurized.”
- testing requirements for coliforms and documentation that the “rolling three-month average” is less than 25 coliforms per milliliter; and
- a mandate that “raw milk shall not contain zoonotic pathogens including Salmonella spp., Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Campylobacter spp., and Listeria monocytogenes.”
Louisiana’s agriculture commissioner and state health officials are on record as being opposed to the bill. Department of Health and Hospitals staff spoke against the bill last year and are scheduled do so again this spring. CDC take on contamination vectors and outbreaks Along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the CDC has special pages on its website devoted to educating consumers about the potential dangers of drinking raw milk ad eating raw dairy products. Both agencies recognize pasteurization as the only method for removing pathogens from raw milk. According to the CDC, ram milk can become contaminated in a variety of ways, including:
- Cow feces coming into direct contact with the milk;
- Infection of a cow’s udder;
- Cow diseases such as bovine tuberculosis;
- Bacteria that live on the skin of cows;
- Environment such as feces, dirt and processing equipment;
- Insects, rodents and other animal vectors;
- Humans by cross-contamination from soiled clothing and shoes or boots.
The CDC has found a correlation between states that allow the sale of raw milk and the number of outbreaks they have. Data from actual victims shows people who are sickened in raw milk outbreaks are 13 times more likely to require hospitalization than those sickened by outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk. In 2014, the CDC reported on data collected from outbreaks associated with raw milk in the U.S. from 2007 through 2012.
- 81 outbreaks across 26 states due to consumption of raw milk;
- 979 illnesses total from the outbreaks;
- 73 people were hospitalized;
- Most of the illnesses were caused by Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157, or Salmonella;
- 81 percent of the outbreaks occurred in states where the sale of raw milk was legal at the time.
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