Between 2013 and 2018 raw milk was the source of 75 outbreaks, that caused 675 illnesses, 98 hospitalizations, and two deaths, according to a new study by CDC and FDA researchers. Children accounted for about half of the illnesses.
Fourteen percent of the people sickened in these outbreaks were children 5 years old and younger, and 34 percent were between the ages of 5 and 19 years old. Ten of the outbreak patients developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a form of kidney failure associated with some E. coli infections, and two developed Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS).
Did Raw Milk Make You Sick?
Laws governing the sale of raw milk vary from state to state. Some states allow sales at retail stores, some allow it to be sold only on the farm where it is produced, and other states permit cow-sharing programs or sales at farmers’ markets. The study, published in a recent edition of Epidemiology & Infection, looked at the relationship between state laws pertaining to raw milk sales and raw milk outbreaks and concluded that increased availability of raw milk is associated with more illnesses and outbreaks.
Pathogens in Raw Milk
Some people say raw milk is a “natural” food that provides health benefits. But no matter how clean and well-cared-for an animal is, bacteria can still make their way into the milk. And, without pasteurization to kill them, these bacteria can cause serious illness and death. That’s why health officials recommend drinking only pasteurized dairy products.
In this study, researchers found that raw milk outbreaks were caused by five kinds of bacteria Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). In five cases, the raw milk was contaminated with more than one pathogen.
All of the outbreaks caused by multiple pathogens included Campylobacter and at least one other bacteria. On its own, Campylobacter caused about half of the outbreaks, 57 percent of the illnesses, and almost a third of the hospitalizations. STEC accounted for 11 percent of illnesses but almost a third of hospitalizations.
The first and only recorded raw milk Listeria outbreak occurred in 2014. It caused two illnesses that both required hospitalization. One person died. The other raw milk fatality that occurred in the 2013-2018 time period was attributed to Campylobacter.
All but one of the 75 raw milk outbreaks that occurred during 2013–2018 were single-state outbreaks. The only multistate outbreak was the Listeria outbreak when raw milk produced in Pennsylvania was illegally shipped to other states. Utah had the highest number of outbreaks (14), followed by Pennsylvania (9), Ohio (7), Idaho (5), and Texas (4).