July 16, 2024

1 in 6 Raw Milk Drinkers Gets Food Poisoning, Study Says

One of every six people who drinks raw milk gets food poisoning, according to a new study from officials at the Minnesota Department of Health.  That percentage is much higher than the number of cases reported in relation to outbreaks associated with raw milk and, researchers say, it’s increasing even as some states push to relax raw milk regulations.

Milking a CowTo get a better idea of the number of illnesses associated with raw milk, (milk that has not been pasteurized) researchers looked at a decade of data on sporadic, or non outbreak-related, illnesses from food poisoning bacteria and parasites reported in Minnesota, one of 30 states where the sale of raw milk is legal. They found that, from 2001 to 2010, 530 people or about 3.7 percent of those sickened by food poisoning bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, reported drinking raw milk prior to becoming ill.

Of the 530 cases of food poisoning associated with raw milk consumption, 13 percent, or 70 people required hospitalization for an average of three days. One patient, an 11-month-old infant with and E. coli infection, died.

As is the case with raw milk outbreaks, children were disproportionately affected by sporadic illnesses associated with raw milk. About 76 percent of children five and under with a culture-confirmed case of  infection from food poisoning bacteria had been served raw milk from their own farm or from a relative’s farm before becoming ill. The median age for patients with E. coli O157:H7 infections was 5.  Four of these patients, including the infant who died, developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) a complication of E. coli infections that leads to kidney failure.

For every lab-confirmed case of food poisoning illness there are between 26 and 100 unconfirmed cases, depending on the bacteria. If those bacteria-specific multipliers are applied to lab-confirmed illnesses asscoaited with raw milk, there were 20,502 cases of food poisoning  from raw milk in Minnesota between  2001–2010.

About 2.3 percent of Minnesotans reported drinking raw milk, according to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance in 2006, the most current year for which data was available. The population of Minnesota in 2006 was 5,167,101, which means an estimated 118,843 Minnesotans consume raw milk during a given week. That means, about 17.3 percent of raw milk drinkers in Minnesota, or 1 in 6, gets food poisoning.

That ratio may sound familiar to some people. It’s the same portion of the entire U.S. population, 1 in 6, that gets food poisoning from all foods on an annual basis. Those odds don’t stack up well for raw milk drinkers.


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