New Zealand’s government is reminding people to be aware of the risks that come with drinking raw, unpasteurized milk. The country’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) posted the consumer notice recently, citing recalls.
“We have seen a number of recent recalls of raw milk and it’s important that consumers remember and understand that there are risks with drinking raw milk,” MPI Animal and Animal Products Director Paul Dansted said in a the notice.
Raw milk has not been treated with heat, or pasteurized, to kill harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses. In 2014, New Zealand put in place rules that require farmers selling raw milk to meet safety guidelines, but consumers still need to take care when drinking raw milk, Dansted said.
The concern is Campylobacter, E. coli, tuberculosis, Listeria, Salmonella or other pathogens that can cause infections and other diseases. Many such cases go undiagnosed or unreported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People with foodborne illnesses usually have diarrhea — often bloody — fever and abdominal cramps. The diarrhea may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually start within two to five days after exposure and last about a week. However, with hepatitis A and Listeria, it can take 50 or 70 days, respectively, for symptoms to develop. Some people with foodborne illnesses do not have any symptoms.
High-risk groups include people with weakened or undeveloped immune systems, such as those with the blood disorders thalassemia and hypogammaglobulinemia, HIV patients or people receiving certain kinds of chemotherapy. In these groups, infections can more easily spread to the bloodstream, causing life-long complications and sometimes death.
“Some people who drink raw milk may not always fully understand the risks and don’t realize that there is the possibility of getting sick from the harmful bacteria in the milk,” said New Zealand’s Dansted.
Pregnant women, babies and young children, elderly people and people with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk of getting sick and the consequences for them can be more severe, and in some cases can lead to death, he said.
“No matter how carefully the animals are milked, there is always a risk that harmful bacteria can get into the milk,” Dansted said.
“There is no way of telling by taste, sight or smell if the milk you are drinking contains harmful bacteria, so we recommend that people heat their raw milk until just boiling — or to 70°C for one minute — before drinking it.”
Data shows numerous outbreaks
Between 2009 and 2016, there were 46 outbreaks of illness in which consuming raw milk was a risk factor in New Zealand. Of these, at least 70 percent involved children from 1 to 6 years old. Campylobacter was responsible for 28 outbreak and E. coli caused four.
In 2015, there were four outbreaks:
- All involved children younger than 16.
- Three outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter and one by Cryptosporidium.
- Five children and one elderly patient were hospitalized.
- One child and one elderly patient developed serious life-threatening complications.
In 2016 there were five outbreaks:
- All involved children younger than 16.
- Four outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter and one by STEC.
- Four children and one elderly patient were hospitalized.
- One child developed serious life-threatening complications.
Recommendations from New Zealand public health officials for people who drink raw, unpasteurized milk include:
- Keep it chilled while transporting it home from the farm.
- Keep raw milk in the coldest part of your fridge; (usually the lower levels are 4 degrees Celsius or less.
- Throw it out if it’s been unrefrigerated for two or more hours.
- When you want to drink your raw milk, heat it first until just boiling (or to 70 degrees Celsius for one minute).
- Drink or toss it by its use-by date.
- If you’re serving raw milk to other people’s children, friends or visitors, make sure you let them know what the risks are.
- Buy it only from a registered supplier.
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