Some of the dangers of raw milk include bacterial infections from salmonella, E. coli, listeria and campylobacter, and parasitic infection with cryptosporidiosis. The instances of illness were reported in a study conducted from 2001 to 2010 by the Minnesota Department of Health, and published in the Centers for Disease Control's Emerging Infectious Diseases on Dec. 11.
Most of the illnesses caused by drinking raw milk are short-term but distinctly unpleasant. However, raw milk infections can cause more severe symptoms and long-term diseases.
"The results indicate that the number of sporadic raw milk–associated illnesses is likely substantial, greatly exceeding the number of cases linked to recognized raw milk–associated outbreaks," according to the study's authors. In addition, "[T]he number of cases associated with reported raw-milk consumption appears to be increasing, just as the movement to relax regulation of raw-milk sales appears to be gaining momentum in many states."
According to results from a 13-year study by the CDC released last year, rates of dairy-related disease outbreaks caused by raw milk are 150 times greater than rates of disease outbreaks from pasteurized milk.
"While some people think that raw milk has more health benefits than pasteurized milk, this study shows that raw milk has great risks, especially for children, who experience more severe illnesses if they get sick," study co-author Dr. Barbara Mahon, deputy chief of CDC's enteric diseases epidemiology branch, said in a written statement.
That multiyear review also revealed that the states where the sale of raw milk was legal had more than twice the rate of outbreaks as states where it was illegal.
"The states that allow sale of raw milk will probably continue to see outbreaks in the future," Dr. Robert Tauxe, director of the CDC's division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases, said in the statement.
That study, published in the Feb. 21, 2012, issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, also found that children under 20 were "disproportionately affected" by diseases linked to raw milk.
In response to the latest study, a group of pediatricians said Monday that pregnant women, babies and kids should never drink raw or unpasteurized milk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Infectious Diseases and Committee on Nutrition also said sales of unpasteurized milk, cheese and related products should be banned in the United States.
Pasteurizing kills bacteria that can be present in raw milk by heating the milk to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 15 seconds and then rapidly cooling it.
At least 97 percent of dairy products consumed in the United States is pasteurized, the committee wrote in Pediatrics, the journal of the AAP.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits shipping raw milk for human consumption across state lines, but its sale is legal in at least 30 states.
Some groups promote "farm-fresh" raw milk based on studies suggesting it may have health benefits, such as being tied to a lower risk of allergies and asthma, according to Reuters.
However, "The benefits of these natural factors have not been clearly demonstrated in evidence-based studies and, therefore, do not outweigh the risks of raw-milk consumption. Substantial data suggest that pasteurized milk confers equivalent health benefits compared with raw milk, without the additional risk of bacterial infections," the pediatric group said in its statement.
According to the CDC, 148 disease outbreaks tied to raw milk or raw-milk products were reported from 1998 through 2011. Those caused 284 hospitalizations and two deaths.
"Contamination during milking or storage or milking from cows that may be diseased, exposes the consumer to severe and life-threatening illnesses such as miscarriage and stillbirths in pregnant women, meningitis and blood infections in both young infants and pregnant women," Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, one of the lead authors of the AAP statement, told Reuters in an email.
In addition to babies and pregnant women, raw milk poses a health risk for people with compromised immune systems and the elderly, he said.
Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. What exactly are you getting "extra" with your raw milk? "Contamination of raw milk occurs by a number of mechanisms, including direct contact with bovine fecal matter; transmission of organisms from bovine skin or hide; clinical or subclinical mastitis [think pus]; primary bovine diseases, such as tuberculosis; environmental contamination; and contact with insects, animals and humans, for example, from soiled clothing," according to the pediatricians' report.
That's what "farm-fresh" really means, Charlie Brown.