Norway has opted not to change the rules around the sale of unpasteurized, raw milk to protect consumer health.

In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Care Services commissioned the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) to prepare a draft regulation that allowed a limited sale of unpasteurized, raw milk and raw cream for human consumption.

Proposed changes in the rules could have seen farms sell up to 5,000 liters of raw milk or raw cream per year if certain conditions were met, such as satisfactory hygiene, an unbroken cold chain, and including a warning statement.

Protect public health
The draft regulation was subject to public comment in 2018 and 2019 and received 37 comments.

In its decision not to change the regulations, the Ministry of Health and Care Services cited warnings from the National Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet), the Veterinary Institute and Norwegian University of Life Sciences. All three groups raised questions about the possible risk of infection and of serious illness. Raw milk can contain Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes or Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

“Food in Norway must be safe, and the regulations for food and drink must protect consumers. It is our responsibility as politicians to facilitate this. It is on this basis that the government does not allow sales of raw milk or cream,” said Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services.

Currently, it is forbidden to sell raw milk and raw cream for human consumption. All raw milk must undergo heat treatment corresponding to pasteurization before it can be sold. In the regulations, there is a small exception for incidental sales of raw milk and cream. The example given is a hiker who walks past a farm in the mountains should be able to buy some milk, regardless of pasteurization, from the farmer.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority warns against drinking raw milk. This applies especially to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

“From a public health perspective, a restrictive set of rules will be the most important risk-reducing measure to avoid illness in connection with the consumption of raw milk,” said Margrethe Hovda Røed, senior adviser at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

Listeria in fish control
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority is to carry out an inspection campaign this year at salmon producers focused on Listeria control.

The agency will examine measures, sampling and procedures to prevent the fish from becoming contaminated with Listeria and routines to deal with any non-conformances.

“Since salmon and trout are largely eaten without heat treatment and used for ready-to-eat products such as sushi, sashimi, smoked and cured fish, it is important that producers have effective measures against Listeria,” said Elisabeth Wilmann, director of fish and seafood at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

In 2018 and 2019, there were serious outbreaks of listeriosis in several EU countries linked to consumption of fish products. The raw materials were Norwegian salmon and trout. Affected products were traced back to processing plants in Poland and Estonia, but it could not be ruled out that raw materials from Norway were contaminated.

This link and the fact that more countries are making demands concerning Listeria in Norwegian fish is why the agency is running the campaign, said Wilmann.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s experience is that operators of fish processing plants have a good knowledge of microbiological hazards in fish, and that targeted work has been done on measures against Listeria. However, it is regularly detected in the production environment of such sites.

The campaign started in mid-January and runs until September with a final report expected toward the end of this year.

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