A German agency informed the public about the risks of drinking raw milk ahead of World Milk Day on June 1.

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) announcement covered the different forms of supply and associated bacterial contamination.

It advised vulnerable groups of people to refrain from having raw and certified raw milk (Vorzugsmilch) due to the potential microbial load. Since raw milk is not subjected to heat treatment like pasteurized drinking milk, disease-causing germs are not killed and can cause illness.

Consumers can buy milk in the supermarket but milk “filling stations” or dispensers, also referred to as vending machines, are increasingly popular in the country.

Unpasteurized, raw milk may contain zoonotic agents which originate from the animal or are introduced via the milking process. Salmonella, Campylobacter or Listeria can be transmitted from animals to humans and trigger disease.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommends that sensitive groups of the population, such as children, pregnant women or the elderly and immunocompromised, should not consume unboiled raw milk.

The agency added there is a risk for healthy adults of infection when drinking raw milk that has not been boiled, which can lead to mild or severe illnesses, depending on the pathogen.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) selected June 1 as World Milk Day from 2001.

Raw milk product testing
Food authorities in federal states ran tests on raw milk offered at filling stations on 2016. Samples were tested for pathogens as part of zoonosis monitoring and the federal surveillance plan coordinated by BVL.

Raw milk may only be delivered to consumers directly in the dairy farm where the following is visible: “raw milk, boil before consumption” (“milk from the farm”).

Up to 4 percent of raw milk samples intended for further processing as well as milk from farm dispensing machines were contaminated with Campylobacter spp., Listeria monocytogenes and Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC).

Results of the investigations on the “milk from the farm” for hygiene indicators such as E. coli and coagulase-positive staphylococci also showed that raw milk delivered directly to the consumer showed issues with hygiene.

A total of 18 outbreaks were reported to the BVL in 2017 caused by consumption of raw milk that was not boiled. A total of 221 people were infected with Campylobacter, while others fell ill with Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and the tick borne encephalitis (TBE) virus.

BVL officials said results confirm that raw milk may pose a risk of infection and should always be heated before consumption.

Certified milk is packaged raw milk from certain previously approved and controlled dairy farms. The animals, farm and certified milk are subject to special hygiene measures. In samples of certified milk no pathogens were detected in the monitoring programs, so the high hygienic requirements mitigate contamination.

However, the BVL advises vulnerable consumers not to drink certified milk as it is intended for direct consumption and occurrence of pathogens cannot be completely ruled out.

A health hazard can also come from products such as raw milk cheese as results from zoonotic monitoring in 2014 and 2015 found.

Up to 1.6 percent of raw milk cheese samples were positive for Salmonella spp., STEC and Listeria monocytogenes.

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