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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

It is time for a Raw Milk Warning Label

In the wake of a 65-person (now 71) Campylobacter outbreak linked to unpasteurized (raw) milk produced by Scotland, Pennsylvania-based dairy, The Family Cow, food safety advocate and attorney William Marler is calling for warning labels to be placed on all raw milk products.

According to Food Safety News, The Family Cow is currently working to improve the safety of its raw milk by installing advanced testing equipment and updating procedures. And, although he recognizes the effort, Marler believes raw milk producers should help consumers become more knowledgeable of the potential dangers of raw milk.

“Unlike many others that have been in this position, The Family Cow has owned its mistakes and is clearly trying to create a safer product,” said Marler. “That said, when it comes down to it, dairies like this are selling a raw animal product which could carry an increased risk of foodborne illness.”

In Pennsylvania alone, there have been at least seven foodborne illness outbreaks linked to raw milk since 2006 according to the AP. Totals show that over that span at least 250 people were sickened after consuming raw milk products that were contaminated with either Campylobacter or Salmonella.

Marler says that proponents of raw milk advertise its potential health and medical benefits such as the prevention of asthma autism, cancer, and Crohn’s Disease. However, outbreaks such these give others cause to caution consumers of the risks associated with raw milk.

“Frankly, very few of the benefits associated with raw milk have been scientifically proven, but they do make for good marketing,” Added Marler. “In the best interest of consumers, I would like to see a warning label on raw milk products.”

Marler would like to see a label with language similar to the following:

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  • aed939

    Sure, as long as you also require the label on cantaloupe, too. And bean sprouts, cold cuts, hot dogs, peanuts, poultry, ground beef, green onions, and spinach. These other raw agricultural products have all killed more than raw milk since 1995.

  • Linda Machmueller

    RE aed939: talking about agricultural products and contamination is not even in the same playing “field” as raw milk. Everything can be contaminated by various routes. People know that. The illnesses from raw milk can easily be history, with: PASTEURIZATION. It’s an easy fix, scientifically elementary, and should be common knowlege by now. But apparently it isn’t if we need a warning on the product. Cigarettes eventually had to have a warning box, too, to try to teach people the facts.

    I have four friends that are dairy farmers…small dairy farmers. When I carefully broached the topic to them, they looked almost offended….they told me they were educated…and why would I ask something like that.

  • All raw food must be classified as carrying risk. The above WARNING label could just as easily be justified for all raw meat & poultry, even though such meat is labeled with the USDA Mark of Inspection. USDA has lulled consumerists to sleep, inferring that implementation of HACCP is the long-awaited panacea, which indeed it is for fully-cooked, ready-to-eat meat and poultry.
    I fully agree with aed939 above. Do we need to individually label each canteloupe, package of ground beef, sprig of parsley, etc? Pretty cumbersome. Instead, we should consider general WARNING labels in areas selling raw product. If USDA and the meat industry in particular had spent 50% of investments in testing alone in the last 12 years and put it into consumer education instead, consumers would know that all raw food is risky.
    The first two words in the yellow label above are “Unpasteurized milk”. Frankly, we need to consider and allow for pasteurization techniques to be implemented for raw products, such as beef carcasses. Electron beam pasteurization (NOT using radioactive materials) can greatly aid in reducting pathogen numbers. While not a guarantee of safety, it will be a valuable tool in our intervention arsennal, just like all our other interventions, none of which provides a 100% guarantee.
    All raw food is risky, Americans. Many claim that Food Safety, and HACCP, should be Farm-to-Fork. The Fork is consumers, whom we must better train in safe food handling techniques.
    John Munsell

  • aed939

    John Munsell: I am with you on the standard warning label for all raw foods. Something similar to what you see on your restaurant menu, “…consuming raw or ‘undercooked’ foods may increase your risk of foodborne illness…” But you still fall into the trap that some fancy technology has to be mandated to render food safe. Whether it is electron beams, gamma rays, ultrasound, there are two problems with this. First, these technologies require a certain capital investment, which are not affordable for small producers under a certain size. Second, these technologies only cover up the poor sanitary practices, which allow the bigger producers to usually get away with persistent, widespread contamination, which is corrected by the technology–until the system breaks down and results in a gigantic incident. The impetus of getting farmer-to-consumer milk is to avoid processing of any sort, and to know your farmer in order to exercise the accountability of that direct relationship. The technologies–whether it is pasteurization of gamma rays, cause the supply chain to lengthen, which breaks that direct relationship. The producer no longer has that moral force to do what is best for the health and safety of his direct customer. At that point, it is appropriate for a government body to come in with regulations as a second-best solution.

  • The problem that I see with that label is that it doesn’t actually offer any practical information to the consumer. How about including constructive suggestions on how to handle/use the milk in ways to reduce risk? Include some info about how to pasteurize it (critical time/temperatures), for example. There’s a proposal for an alternative label below. This isn’t just an academic exercise. My husband & I are thinking about actually using a label like this for milk sales from our small farm. Comments welcome.

    Some context: We have a very small dairy herd (4 goats, if they all kid successfully). Our only realistic option for selling milk legally in the state of Missouri is to sell it raw. A certifiable dairy facility is completely out of the question due to cost. It would be illegal for us to pasteurize the milk from our small herd and then sell it. We don’t drink raw milk ourselves, and we’re going to sell milk only to customers who have inspected the farm/barn and who are willing to give us their word (& signature) that they won’t use the milk raw, either. We appreciate the culinary quality and flavor of fresh milk sourced from a small herd of animals on intensively rotated pasture to the benefit of the animals and the landscape, and we think our customers will, too. The rawness of the milk isn’t the attraction. In our minds, selling raw milk is analogous to selling raw meat, which is considered entirely acceptable. Either one is risky to consume raw, but proper preparation can result in a safe and delightful food.

    Draft proposed label:

    RAW, UNPASTEURIZED GOAT MILK

    Warning: DO NOT CONSUME RAW. This milk has not been tested for pathogens. Consumption of raw milk may lead to severe illness or even death if pathogens are present. Consuming this milk raw is not worth the risk to yourself or to the farm’s existence. This milk has been sold with the understanding that it will not be consumed raw.

    Suggested uses:
    • To home pasteurize: Heat to 145ºF for 1/2 hour or to 161ºF for 15 seconds. Use a reliable, calibrated thermometer.
    • Suitable for baking, simmered sauces, puddings, cooked custards, cooked ice-cream bases, & any other use that heats the milk to pasteurization temperature in the process.
    • Great for yogurt & fresh cheeses; use a recipe that pasteurizes the milk in the process, or pasteurize beforehand.
    • May also be used for aged raw-milk hard cheeses; allow a minimum 60 day aging period (as established by the FDA). Whey from raw cheese should be pasteurized if it is to be used; do not use raw whey for vegetable fermentation.

    Hand-milked on: [DATE]

    Best used within a week of milking. Keep refrigerated. May be frozen for longer storage, though it will be less suitable for some uses thereafter. Freezing is not an alternative to pasteurization.

  • Thanks – those are great ideas. Need to come up with a bigger label.

  • Mike

    I just curious Bill why don’t you go after the big diary producers when a out break occurs with pasteurized products or the beef industries that cause food born illnesses and suggest warning labels be put on those products. Is it you rather pick on small farmers like Mr. Shank who does not have the resources to fight back accusations made by the lawyers. From reports on the internet the state of Maryland which found the problem with the milk was done by using milk from two unopened bottles from two customers refrigerators. How long did it take for the state of Maryland to find two unopened bottles from these consumers. And how many people would leave these bottles unopened for this extended period of time? I know one thing when we buy milk it is opened within a short period of time between purchase and consumption. The bottles of milk which Maryland’s testing was done did not come directly from the farm so they would be considered compromised. The bases of the whole article appears suspect. The foundation and the basis of this whole case is suspect not to mention the testing that found the problem had no regulatory authority over the farm at all. Pa from what I understand found no problems. Although I’m not a lawyer this case appears to be is full of holes. Lets not let that get in the way of the every day articles that have surfaced at the expense of the Shank family. There were many people that drink milk from the family cow during the period in question with no problem. Can science explain this? Are you sure these cases where from the milk that PA never confirmed finding any problems. In my opinion anyone promoting pasteurized milk over raw milk are ignoring the facts, have minimal understanding of them or they are just twisting the facts to support their own agenda or monetary gain. There are more and more positive testimonies of raw milk with its increased use. By the way the taste of raw milk just as God made it and before man destroys it puts pasteurized milk to shame. For more information go to realmilk.com and become educated regarding the other side. I personally have no agenda and not get any monetary gain from my comments. My testimony regarding raw/real milk is unbiased. Why don’t you recommend a warning on milk products that use rbst a growth hormone manufactured by Monsanto which is not permitted in Europe and Canada but Ok per the FDA. Test results from Canada and Europe indicated problems with using rbst but the FDA permits its use in the USA. Why don’t you recommend warnings telling the people that rbst has been banned in Canada and Europe.

  • I dont believe what i am reading, why would anyone want to pazturize the milk. It just destroyes all the nutrients in it. I have been drinking unpasturized milk most of my life life and i am never sick. I also take cod liver oils and just normal supplements, plus i never eat fast food at Mcdonald or any other factory fast food chain.