Raw milk is simply any milk that has not been pasteurized, a process in which the milk is heated to destroy dangerous microorganisms. (In the United States, raw milk is primarily produced by dairy cows, although it also can be produced by goats and sheep.)
Proponents of raw milk argue that consuming it prevents lactose intolerance, boosts the immune system, and can aid in the prevention of allergies. Those proponents also say that pasteurizing the milk can damage or destroy the milk’s nutrients and “good” bacteria. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — among other organizations — say there is no evidence to support those claims.
In fact, the CDC reported that between 1998 and 2011, almost 2,400 Americans were sickened in 148 outbreaks of food poisoning caused by the consumption of raw milk or cheese made with raw milk. Of those people affected, 284 were hospitalized, and two died. In addition, of the 104 outbreaks in which patients’ ages were included, more than 80 percent involved at least one person younger than 20.
There are numerous types of bacteria that can contaminate raw milk, but the primary culprits are Escherichia coli (better known as E. coli), Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Brucella. Symptoms produced by those bacteria can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, and deyhdration.
When a foodborne illness persists and worsens, it can evolve into a complication that is dangerous and potentially life-threatening:
- One such complication is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which occurs in about 10 percent of E. coli cases. HUS damages red blood cells, which can result in kidney failure and potentially a kidney transplant.
- If Salmonella or Listeria bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can infect the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (bacterial meningitis), the lining of the heart (endocarditis), and bones and bone marrow (osteomyelitis).
- Campylobacteriosis can produce long-term consequences, such as arthritis or Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition that commonly begins with tingling in the legs and feet but can ultimately produce paralysis below the waist.
For your information:
- Pregnant women who become sickened by contaminated raw milk run the risk of miscarriage, fetal death, illness for a newborn baby, or even the death of a newborn.
- In a 2010 editorial, the Minneapolis Star Tribune called for a ban on the sales of raw milk in the state of Minnesota.
- Around the world, other milk-producing livestock include horses, buffalo, yaks, camels, and reindeer, among other animals.
Sources: cdc.gov, fda.gov, foodsafety.gov, mayoclinic.org
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