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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

85% of Outbreaks and Illnesses from Milk Products were traced to Raw Milk or 60-day Aged Raw Milk Cheeses in the Last 18 Months

In response to the Rally for Raw Milk (a.k.a., “Mrs. Moo goes to Washington,” “The Million Moo March” or “All the President’s Cows”) to be held in Washington D.C., I thought I would give (before Ron Paul, et. al., don the “moostache”) a few statistics from the last year and a half on raw milk and raw milk cheese safety:

cashcow.jpgSummary:

  • A review of 16 outbreaks since January 2010 revealed that 14 (88%) were due to raw dairy products (raw milk and aged raw milk cheeses) including 155 of 183 (85%) illnesses and 23 of 33 (70%) hospitalizations from these illnesses
  • Raw dairy illnesses were caused by Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli O157:H7 and other shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and Salmonella
  • One pasteurized milk outbreak from Salmonella was reported during this time period and caused 23 illnesses and 2 hospitalizations
  • No known deaths were reported from any dairy product (raw or pasteurized) during this time period
  • All in-state raw dairy sales were legal; 2 farms allegedly violated federal law by shipping raw milk interstate through buyer’s clubs

Details:

Outbreaks

  • 14 raw dairy outbreaks with 155 illnesses, 23 hospitalizations, and no deaths (12 fluid raw milk, 2 aged raw milk cheese)
  • 1 pasteurized dairy outbreak with 23 illnesses, 2 hospitalizations, and no deaths
  • 1 queso fresco Mexican-style cheese outbreak with 5 illnesses and hospitalizations, no deaths
  • 3 sporadic illnesses and hospitalizations from illegal Mexican-style cheese, no deaths

Recalls (no illnesses reported)

  • 11 raw dairy (5 fluid raw milk, 6 aged raw milk cheese)
  • 5 queso fresco cheese
  • 1 chocolate milk due to inadequate pasteurization
  • 1 imported Italian cheese made from pasteurized milk

Estimate of raw milk and pasteurized milk outbreaks and illnesses, January 1, 2010 – May 15, 2011:

Based on the reported numbers above:

  • 14 times higher number of outbreaks from unpasteurized milk (14/1)
  • 6.7 times higher number of illnesses from unpasteurized milk (155/23)
  • 11.5 times higher number of hospitalizations from unpasteurized milk (23/2)

However, if only 3% (from FoodNet data estimates) of total milk consumed is unpasteurized milk (raw milk 3%, cheese made from raw milk 1.6%, pasteurized milk 78.5%), then during this period, the risk of consuming a unpasteurized milk vs. a pasteurized milk product was:

~1400 times higher number of outbreaks from unpasteurized milk relative to pasteurized milk

~670 times higher number of illness from an equivalent serving of unpasteurized milk relative to pasteurized milk

~1150 times higher number of hospitalizations from unpasteurized milk relative to pasteurized milk

Of note, according to the USDA, total milk output for 2010 was 193 billion pounds (24,125,000,000 gallons).  Almost two-thirds of the milk supply is used to produce a wide array of dairy products. Almost half of the milk supply is used to turn out about 9 billion pounds of cheese each year.  The production of ice cream and other frozen dairy products totals about 1.5 billion gallons.  Butter, yogurt and nonfat dry milk make up the balance of production (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/dairy/background.htm).  Less than 1% of the total comprises legal fluid raw milk.

See, 2010-2011 Outbreaks, illnesses and recalls linked to raw (unpasteurized) and pasteurized dairy products, United States (January 1, 2010 – May 15, 2011) Chart with Citations.

  • Alicia

    Interesting statistics, but do you have any info on what caused these bacteria outbreaks? were the raw milk/products handled properly, kept in sanitary conditions, refrigerated at proper temps?… were the cows that produced the milk treated and fed properly ?

  • Alicia – click to download the chart with citations – it has links to all the information about the outbreaks and recalls I could find.

  • Alicia

    Thanks Mr. Marler, I hadn’t noticed the link to the chart before.. Very interesting. I like the idea of home grown and all natural, but that is definitely food for thought. I’ve never had raw cows milk and after reading this, I don’t think I’d try it.

  • frank

    Didn’t two people die, believe it was in MA, in the last 18months from drinking milk? Thinking it was pasteurized.

  • frank

    nevermind, found the MA incident in another link.

  • Your statistics about the number of fresh milk drinkers who fell ill are flawed- and manipulated.
    10 million Americans drink fresh milk- and 85 fell seriously ill as a direct result of milk.
    In Massachusetts where I live and farm, three people died in 2008 after drinking pasteurized milk. No one has died from drinking raw milk. Consumers have a right to choose what foods they want. Clearly, the tide is turning against government which is presenting flawing information. An informed and educated population is learning the truth. The more attention to bring to perceived illegal behavior, the more you will find yourselves fighting a battle you cannot win. America is fed up with tax dollars being spent on jack booted thugs undoing farmers lives and their production of quality local food. Lay off!
    Brigitte Ruthman

  • No more sterilized, pasteurized and over processed, chemically laced, pesticide embedded, GMO altered, “food like substances” for me. I’ve seen the end results of long term consumption and it aint pretty. I’ll take my chances with “real food” and continue fortifying my gut flora with the microorganisms I evolved to coexist with. The only people susceptible to these “bad-bugs” are the ones who’ve wrecked their gut terrain to the point of giving these bad bugs an opportunity to florish and cause problems. It takes time and effort to first come to this understanding and then slowly make the shift and fortify. The simple minded “corporately (gov) indoctrinated” need not apply and move along. You’ve made your choice and I’ve made mine. In your world living with a condition or disease is the norm and the primary means of making a living. Your’e just exploiting another resource. One that is growing daily. By all means provide these people a service and in the process keep and wheel turning, however, the ignorant few who effect the freedoms of the informed will not be tolerated.

    Although raw milk, like any food, can become contaminated and cause illness, the dangers of raw milk are greatly exaggerated. Claims that raw milk is unsafe are based on 40-year-old science and century-old experiences from distillery dairy “factory farms” in rapidly urbanizing nineteenth century America. The health benefits for the people who consume it will always “trump your facts”. You’ll NEVER have this experience and so you will never know this truth. Never.

    In recent news more proof “the experts know whats best”:

    According to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, acetaminophen is the leading cause of drug overdose-related emergency room (ER) visits among children. More than 7,000 children end up in the ER every year from acetaminophen overdoses (http://www.ajpmonline.org/webfiles/…).

    Discovery of Bt insecticide in human blood proves GMO toxin a threat to human health, study finds

    Scientists from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, have detected the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, circulating in the blood of pregnant as well as non-pregnant women.

  • Brigitte, I stand by my numbers from the outbreaks over the last two years. Other than saying I am wrong, can you please point to where the numbers are in fact flawed? I am well aware of the deaths due to Listeria in Mass – I represented those folks.

  • Doc Mudd

    “1150 times higher number of hospitalizations from unpasteurized milk relative to pasteurized milk”
    Not twice as likely, not 5 times as likely, but over 1000 times as likely to be hospitalized!
    What is there about this unnecessary risk that some folks cannot grasp? It is not a difficult concept. Why would any rational person needlessly expose their children to this danger?
    http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/

  • Milkman

    That’s how bad the people want raw milk!! There willing to risk a “possible” problem for the health benifits they receive. There is a reason people have drank milk for over 10000 years. It’s perfect food. If the government cared about the people they would simply make it legal and regulate it. The lack of rules are forcing small inadequately funded producers to make mistakes with no guidelines. If people want to take the risk why should it be any different from choosing to smoke.

  • Theresa Kentner

    I think, and believe me I have no vested interest in either side, that it is the children who become ill and suffer affects from tainted milk that is the concern.
    To further Milkman’s analogy, it’s as though the kids were raised as smokers before they could choose on their own.
    Now if the consumers want to sign waivers to not sue if they or their kids become ill with HUS or something, promise that they have adequate health insurance to cover their own medical costs, I say drink all the raw milk you want.

  • dangermaus

    This is all great information about whether one should decide to drink raw milk. It might as well remain unpublished, though, if what one wants to do is make raw milk illegal, and deny people the choice.
    @Marler,
    Do you think an individual consumer should be able to buy raw milk from someone who produces it, or should there be a law that absolutely forbids that? Something in between?

  • I think you misunderstood my position in the past, although you are correct what my position is now:
    Sometime ago I penned – “What I’d Recommend: Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2009/11/what-id-recommend-raw-vs-pasteurized-milk/
    Eventually, I came to the conclusion that:
    1. Raw milk should be sold only on farms that are certified by the state and inspected and tested regularly. Make ambiguous black market milk/cheese sales and “pet food sales” meant for human consumption clearly illegal
    2. Raw milk should not be sold in grocery stores or across state lines–the risks of mass production and transportation are too great; the risk of a casual purchase by someone misunderstanding the risks is too great, as well
    3. Farms should be required to have insurance coverage sufficient to cover reasonable damages to their customers
    4. Practices such as outsourcing (buying raw milk from farms not licensed for raw milk production) should be illegal
    5. Colostrum should be regulated as a dairy product, not a nutritional supplement
    6. Warning signs on the bottles and at point-of-purchase should be mandatory. An example: “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria (not limited to E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella). Pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease (immune compromised) have the highest risk of harm, which includes Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, Dehydration, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Reactive Arthritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Miscarriage, or Death, from use of this product.”
    Frankly, with the “magic food” and “we are at war” language coming from the raw milk proponents, I have been more focused on stopping raw milk sales were I can, because, I certainly do not see how even my suggestions have been discussed rationally by the proponents. Frankly, I have given up on compromise. It is hard to have a discussion when you are being called a fascist, and a tool of big agribusiness or government, and yes, an ambulance-chasing vampire.

  • dangermaus

    How about something much simpler:
    Food that’s subject to FDA/USDA regulation is labeled as such, and anything that is not, isn’t.
    If you get sick from eating contaminated, unregulated food, it’d be dramatically more difficult to sue – they’d have to be doing something like advertising false statements of fact in order to be liable. People would give much more careful consideration to (and investigate more thoroughly) whether they wanted to trust that persons’ methods. I’d still buy my veggies from my CSA farmer, and I’d still buy half-pigs from the farmer who breeds Duroc/Berkshire hybrids where I currently do a few times a year. I wouldn’t buy fruit off a truck on the side of the road, though, unless I was going to cook it.

  • Interesting ideas. All those products that you list that should be protected, guess how many cases I have had where they are involved? You are right, only raw milk.

  • thanks for an informed post. i’m still on the fence about regulating raw milk sales – if someone wants to play the raw milk roulette, that’s their choice and educated, statistically-savvy public health advocates can’t police every food decision.

    but your numbers are spot on & scary, and I will absolutely pass on your raw milk recommendations.

    I’m an RD who’s chosen to work with communities (rather than individuals) because I just can’t keep a level head when science is battered down by fads, myth, and ‘feel-good’ marketing tactics. I hear ya on how difficult it is to have a discussion with someone who is so vehemently blind to what the evidence says with regards to food, diet, and an individual’s health. thanks again for posting.

    ….

  • dangermaus

    Raw milk makes a good subject to argue about because (to me) it seems like you reeeeaaaaaallllly have to buy into vague, unfounded health claims and ignore good science to think it’s a good idea to drink it. I can’t think of a time I’ve heard someone saying raw milk has a flavor worth going way out of your way for. Not that I’d ever forbid someone from doing it.
    It gets less clear to me when you’re talking about raw milk cheese, though. The processes involved as cheese is made and ages kills of most, if not all, of the pathogens originally contained in the milk. Certain artisanal, raw milk cheeses are the kind of thing that makes life worth living. While there certainly are SOME interesting pasteurized cheeses, their complexity of texture and flavor just can’t compare – find me a pasteurized milk cheese with crystals in it like a 5-year raw gouda has. I’ve seen posts on this site from people that put aged raw milk cheeses in the same risk category as liquid raw milk, and (I assume) think it should be similarly banned.
    So, I draw the line of what is “safe enough” for me there, but there are those who’d deny my access to that product on the dubious grounds that someone, somewhere out there, might accidentally spend $30 on a pound of a cheese they thought was the same thing as say, Land o’ Lakes mild cheddar (which sells for a sixth of that). It’s none of my business to force you to make that same values judgement.

  • mickeyg

    Well, babies seem to have survived on mother’s raw milk for centuries. I certainly drank raw milk as a child as did many of others of the era. And some say we have just lived too long. Imagine that, a whole older generation of raw milk drinkers lived too long so the government must put a stop to it.

    Ban all mothers who breast feed. All animals that drink raw milk.

    With all the hype against raw milk, I haven’t seen the indication that supports labeling this junk milk we are forced to buy. Did these cows (or goats) have vaccines? If so, how long were the segregated and their milk disposed of before allowing milk to to go market? Did these cows consume GM products as feed? Nearly all of our corn and soy products are contaminated with genetic modifications. Do today’s farmers report on the deaths of mice in their fields due to GM products? The amount of mice deformatives?

    When I see the outrage of and the labeling of what is actually in today’s milk, I will agree natural raw milk should be banned. Furthermore, since this new milk is contained in other products, cake mixes, etc., I want all truth in labeling. Also, and this may seem a little off subject, but I want to know what lobby and what government agency is funding this so-called good milk versus natual milk. The reason I add that is because I had no clue the NPR received federal tax dollars while it was soliciting as though it was a poor downtrodden entity.

  • What I don’t agree with in this article is someone taking the stance against a product and then proceeding to take that choice/option away from others because YOU don’t yourself want to consume raw milk or whatever the product may be. Raw milk isn’t so inherently dangerous that it deserves the treatment that Marler recommends. When I see statistics about raw milk making people ill, the numbers are miniscule compared to food borne illness from large food production operations. We aren’t going to outlaw processed food or industrial agriculture so why try and take away raw milk when it has such a minor impact on food borne illness?
    From someone’s perspective who has consumed raw milk direct from a farmer for the last 7 years, I DO think that raw milk should be regulated to an extent. I think a “protocol” should be followed for safe production because I don’t think raw milk should be causing anyone illness because of harmful bacteria, so when there is illness associated to contaminated raw milk it gives safely produced raw milk a bad name. I know first hand that raw milk can be produced safely. And I want to point out that safely produced raw milk left unrefrigerated will sour and this “product” is actually more nutritious than raw milk, left long enough raw milk because cheese either by adding cultures or letting the good bacteria continue to ferment will create clabber cheese. Pasteurized milk on the other hand can become very dangerous if let warm or drank past date.
    Marler’s own site: http://www.foodborneillness.com/ (you know where the most danger exists since this is your area of expertise)
    and http://www.cdc.gov/outbreaknet/outbreaks.html (list of food borne illness “outbreaks”) see 2010 sprouts found through Feb. 2011.
    I found the CDC and Marler site to have some good stats on recent “outbreaks” for food borne illness and as usual, the numbers are high and the culprit is processing plants that are producing finished products with unsanitary methods as they mass produce with base ingredients from industrial agriculture that has come in with salmonella on/in raw eggs or meat. Let’s focus on the “larger” issue here and stop wasting time and effort attacking small farmers that are meeting the demands of their customers while feeding their own families the same food. Big Ag and mass food production are inherently dangerous and the public needs to be protected from them.
    Respectfully, Karine

  • Brigitte Ruthman

    Marler-
    check with the CDC’s own information about illness- it is far less as a percentage of fresh milk drinkers than processed milk.
    better than 11 million of the population choose fresh milk. maybe 100-150 fell ill.
    Those are the facts
    Brigitte
    remember, I come from the state where three people died after consuming PROCESSED milk. That shouldn’t be glossed over. That is the brake pedal.

  • One bit of information appears to be absent from both sides. Natural immunity. A healthy body, meaning one with a functioning immune system, is designed to recognize and illuminate such things as ecoli etc. The illness and recovery from an attack is usually the catalyst towards an even stronger resistance. I was taught to sterilize everything before feeding my baby, BUT I breast fed them and I certainly did not sterilize my breasts. I also did not sterilize anything after I weened them and they had and still have awesome resistance to GERMS.
    With that said yes, death is a possibility and once upon a time that is how a species evolved stronger genetics. We civilized creatures keep pro-creating weak genetics by insisting that everything that could potentially harm us be eradicated and that is just foolish. But it will definitely continue to support the health care system, the pharmaceutical companies, and all the scientific research funded by them. As far as raw products, LOCAL sources with controlled productivity have a right to produce their product. It was mass marketing of raw milk that spread the diseases but how many modern issues are a result of the mass marketing of products rather than the product themselves. Just some food for thought if anyone is still reading this other than myself.