Unpasteurized cow’s milk — and the cheeses made from it — have a small but growing number of fans who prefer it to the pasteurized products that make up the overwhelming majority of what’s available. However, those “raw” milk products are responsible for nearly every case of dairy-related foodborne ailments in the U.S.
For a study published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (in advance of its official publication in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases), researchers looked into publicly available data about foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S., and found that of the 760 illnesses and 22 hospitalizations reported per year, on average, tied to dairy consumption, most of those were from Salmonella and Campylobacter.
And although only 3.2% of the population consumes unpasteurized milk, and 1.6% eat unpasteurized cheese, those products caused 96% of illnesses caused by contaminated dairy products.
Therefore, researchers found, unpasteurized dairy products cause 840 times more illnesses and 45 times more hospitalizations than pasteurized products. The growing popularity of these kinds of foods will only make things worse, the CDC says.
“As consumption of unpasteurized dairy products grows, illnesses will increase steadily; a doubling in the consumption of unpasteurized milk or cheese could increase outbreak-related illnesses by 96%,” researchers note.
Researchers point out that although the demand for organic and natural foods that are minimally processed has been on the rise, in contrast to some perceptions, “natural food products are not necessarily safer than conventional ones, as evidenced by higher rates of foodborne illnesses associated with unpasteurized dairy products.”
Contributing to the increase in illnesses associated with unpasteurized dairy products could be an easing in regulations around unpasteurized milk: The researchers note that the number of states where the sale of unpasteurized milk is prohibited decreased to 20 in 2011 from 29 in 2004.
“This trend toward increased availability of unpasteurized dairy products raises public health concerns, especially because raw milk consumers include children,” the researchers say.