State Health Department and Milk Board Join to Warn Missourians Against Consuming Raw Milk Products

State Health Department and Milk Board Join to Warn Missourians Against Consuming Raw Milk Products

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Missouri State Milk Board together are warning Missourians that drinking raw goat or cow milk, or eating products made from raw milk, can lead to very serious illness and even death. Among several types of bacteria that can cause illness, raw milk can be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a strain that can produce toxins that cause a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

HUS is a serious, life-threatening complication that can cause severe, bloody diarrhea, injury to the kidneys and kidney failure. Half of all people with HUS-related diarrhea require dialysis, and three to five percent of these people die. Overall, HUS occurs in about 10 percent of those infected with E. coli O157:H7 or other toxin-producing E. coli. This condition can be especially serious in young children, senior adults and people with weakened immune systems.

The bacteria that cause illness are found in the feces of cows and goats and can contaminate milk during the milking process. Using standard hygiene practices during milking, such as washing hands, keeping equipment clean, and keeping the milking area separated from other areas, are important, but will not completely eliminate the risk for milk contamination. Therefore, consumers should not assume that raw milk purchased at a farmers’ market or grocery store is free of bacteria and safe to drink.

Raw milk and products made with it are those that have not gone through the pasteurization process, which kills harmful organisms by heating the milk to a specific temperature for a set length of time.

Although many people are aware that raw milk can contain bacteria that cause disease, some believe that it has potential benefits over pasteurized milk, such as greater nutritional value, vitamins that are present naturally rather than added, and even protection against tooth decay. However, research has not shown any benefit of raw milk over pasteurized milk. To assure that the milk product being purchased is safe to consume, look for a label that says the product is made from pasteurized milk.

Raw milk products that should be considered unsafe include soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, and Mexican-style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero and Queso Blanco, unless they are made from pasteurized milk. Other products that could be considered unsafe if made from unpasteurized milk include cream, yogurt, pudding, ice cream and frozen yogurt.

It is legal for farmers to sell raw milk products directly to the people who will consume it. Missouri statutes specifically allow a farmer to sell raw milk or cream, at the farm where it originated, or deliver it to the customer for the customer’s own use. However, if a producer wishes to sell retail raw milk or cream at a farmers’ market or any other retail venue, the producer must first obtain a permit with the Missouri State Milk Board. If the producer obtains a permit, he or she also must comply with the regulations pertaining to the proper bottling, capping and labeling of raw milk products as specified in the state statutes. Compliance with these regulations does not ensure raw milk is free of harmful bacteria. No producers currently have a retail permit to sell raw milk or cream in Missouri.

Raw milk products can also carry Listeria bacteria that put pregnant women and their unborn or newborn children at risk. Listeria can cause miscarriage, fetal death or illness or death of a newborn. These bacteria can also put the unborn baby at risk even if the mother does not feel ill.

In addition to E. coli O157:H7, raw milk can also carry bacteria that cause diseases such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria and brucellosis.

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