It’s unknown if humans can become infected with the Avian Flu virus from unpasteurized, raw milk, but we’ve certainly set up the experiment to find out.

That’s because several state legislatures in recent years have eased up on raw milk restrictions, mostly to permit the direct transfer of it at the dairy or a nearby farmers market. However, some states allow raw milk at retail stores.

The direct sale of raw milk contrasts with the Food and Drug Administration’s long-standing recommendation against consuming raw milk. It remains against federal law to sell unpasteurized, raw milk across state lines.

Now, those looser direct sale provisions favored by many a state are being tested after the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus was found in raw milk.

FDA responded by warning consumers to avoid all raw milk products.  FDA sees pasteurization as a method of inactivating the Avian virus.

At this point, it’s only fair to note that science does not know if people can get H5N1 from drinking raw milk, but because of the high levels of viral loads, it’s certainly a possibility.

Avoidance would seem to be the best action that raw milk drinkers could take.

The FDA, which continues to test, has “advisedly strongly” against raw milk since May 1.

Several states have issued similar warnings. New Mexico is the latest, issuing its warning yesterday.

“Raw milk that has not been pasteurized may present a higher risk of HPAI and other virus/bacteria transmission,” David Morgan, a public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Health said. “People should avoid consuming raw milk or raw cheeses.”

It’s legal to buy raw milk in some manner in 27 states, with direct options most common.  Raw milk advocates often claim the choice is more nutritious, but that is without scientific evidence.

Pasteurization is the best mechanism for combating bird flu because it inactivates viruses and kills the harmful bacteria in milk.

The FDA has found fragments of the bird flu virus in commercially available milk, cottage cheese, and sour cream.  That’s enough for health experts to advise steering clear of raw milk until there is an all-clear signal on bird flu.

North Dakota raw milk dairy farmers acknowledge that their cows have a low avian flu risk. Raw milk dairy cows in 10 states have tested positive for the bird flu.

But so far the customers who are the direct buyers of that raw milk are not being deterred.

Raw milk customers have plenty of experience in not worrying about potential harmful outcomes. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Raw milk can carry harmful germs, such as Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, Brucella, and Salmonella. These germs can pose serious health risks even before there is any bird flu contamination to worry about..

Raw milk is one of the riskiest foods. People who get sick from raw milk might have many days of diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. Some people can develop severe or even life-threatening diseases, including:

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis, and
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome can result in kidney failure, stroke, and even death.

Here are some things to know:

  • Raw milk is linked to a variety of food-borne illnesses. Some of these illnesses can be severe.
  • People can get ill from the same brand and source of raw milk they drank previously, even for a long time, without becoming ill.
  • Pasteurizing milk reduces the chance of illness. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for enough time to kill harmful germs.
  • Raw milk can get contaminated in many ways. Healthy animals can carry germs that are harmful to people. Germs in these animals’ poop can get into raw milk and contaminate it.
  • Sound safety practices can reduce the chance of germs getting into raw milk but not eliminate it.

People most at risk for several foodborne illnesses are adults 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years, and people with weakened immune systems. However, healthy people of any age can get sick after drinking raw milk contaminated with harmful germs.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)