Almost 20 children in Norway have fallen sick after a farm visit that included drinking unpasteurized, raw milk.
Health officials reported 17 people became ill after the farm trip, including 16 children aged 3 to 5 years old. Most were infected with Campylobacter but a few patients were also diagnosed with infections from the parasite Cryptosporidium after contact with animals.
The children fell ill after the farm visit in Viken, a county in Eastern Norway, where they were served raw, unpasteurized milk as part of their packed lunch. Pasteurization kills bacteria, viruses and parasites often found in raw milk.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet) recommend that children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems avoid drinking raw milk, because infections can have serious consequences for them.
Good hygiene but pathogen still found
Mattilsynet inspected the farm and took a milk sample from the tank. The farm had a relatively new barn and the milk appeared to be of good quality as the bacterial count was low, officials said. However, Campylobacter was detected.
Folkehelseinstituttet examined Campylobacter from some of the sick children, and found they carry the same Campylobacter jejuni strain and that it is genetically similar to the strain detected in the raw milk.
Mattilsynet encourages good hand hygiene when visiting farms but added school staff have an extra responsibility to ensure that children do not drink raw milk.
Norway recently continued a ban on selling raw milk based on the risk of becoming ill. This means serving it to children who visit a farm is illegal. Milk intended for direct consumption must be heat-treated.
In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Care Services told 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 and including a warning statement.
In its decision not to change the regulations, the Ministry of Health and Care Services cited warnings from agencies that raised questions about the possible risk of infection and serious illness.
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