The Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand has told unregistered raw drinking milk suppliers to stop sales until they comply with legal requirements.

Compliance staff from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) executed search warrants this past week at non-compliant raw milk suppliers in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Nelson, and Southland following a year-long operation.

Melinda Sando, MPI’s manager of food compliance, said during the site visits officials gathered evidence. They will continue with further investigation of non-compliant sales.

“We believe that the suppliers we visited are operating outside of the regulatory framework. By not adhering to the rules for selling raw drinking milk, they are putting consumer health at risk. There have been multiple instances in the past of people getting sick after drinking raw milk from some of these suppliers. We can’t let this continue,” she said.

“Raw unpasteurized milk is a risky product as it hasn’t been heat-treated (pasteurized) to remove illness-causing bacteria including E. coli, Listeria and Campylobacter. Raw milk may also be a source of tuberculosis.”

Between 2009 and 2016 there were 46 outbreaks where consuming raw milk was a risk factor. At least 70 percent involved children, ranging from one year to 16 years old and 28 were caused by Campylobacter and four by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

A consumer choice
Sando said the agency supports consumer choice and is not telling people they can’t drink raw milk.

“What we are saying is that when people do choose to drink raw unpasteurised milk, they’re able to make that choice with a degree of confidence that the milk they’re consuming is produced within the regulatory framework. Purchasing from MPI-registered suppliers who are being audited regularly to ensure they are managing risks and testing regularly helps consumers reduce the risks if they choose to drink this product.”

Some suppliers had been using tactics including selling their product as bath or pet milk to continue sales.

“These tactics are not legal in our view and are a way of getting around the regulations and avoiding the costs associated with being compliant including food safety testing costs, registration costs, and audit costs. We make no apologies for holding to account, people who are breaching the regulations. The rules exist for a reason – to protect human health,” said Sando.

Mercury Bay Creamery recalled cheese and milk products and raw drinking milk in October because the business was not registered for all processes and there was incomplete information on process controls. All batches, flavors, and sizes were affected but there were no reports of illness.

MPI became aware of the problem through the verifier for the food business who reported sales of products that had not had processes validated so could not yet legally be sold.

Regulations from 2016
Sando said suppliers were able to take part in a consultation process on introduction of raw drinking milk regulations which came into effect in March 2016.

“They knew what the rules were designed to do and why they were brought into effect. The suppliers need to stop selling unregulated product immediately and will only be able to resume selling once they have met all requirements to make them compliant.”

Sale of raw drinking milk is regulated under the Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers Regulations 2015, developed under the Animal Products Act 100 (APA). The government is assessing effectiveness of these regulations as they have been fully operational for two years.

Farmers selling such product from the farm gate or by home delivery are required to register with MPI, follow hygiene rules when harvesting, bottling, storing and distributing milk, frequently test it, and keep details for customers so they can be contacted in case harmful bacteria is found.

All containers and point-of-sale areas must display labels and notices that identify the health risks of raw milk and provide use-by dates, refrigeration information and warnings for consumers in high-risk groups such as the young, pregnant, elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

MPI advises people to consume only pasteurized milk or to heat raw milk to 70 degrees C (158 degrees F) and hold it at that temperature for one minute.

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