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Raw milk strikes again

16.dec.05, Douglas Powell, Commentary from the Food Safety Network

16.dec.05, Douglas Powell, Commentary from the Food Safety Network
In May, 1943, Edsel Bryant Ford, son of auto dictator Henry Ford, died at the age of 49 in Detroit, of what some claimed was a broken heart.
Biology, however, decreed that Ford died of undulant fever, apparently brought on by drinking unpasteurized milk from the Ford dairy herd, at the behest of his father's mistaken belief that all things natural must be good.
As of this morning, seven children have been stricken with E. coli O157:H7 in Woodland, Washington, and four of them remain in serious condition in hospital.
The health department says all of the cases are connected to drinking unpasteurized milk from Dee Creek Farm near Woodland. Washington agriculture officials say dairy producers are required to be licensed and inspected monthly, but Dee Creek has never been licensed.
Dr. Justin Denny, Clark County health officer was quoted as saying, "The risks far outweigh" the taste.
The Pima County Health Department in Arizona was cited as reporting Wednesday that it had received confirmation of salmonella contamination in nonpasteurized, raw milk produced by Colorado City's Meadowayne Dairy.
The milk was sold at several natural- and health-food stores in the Tucson area.
And that's just this week.
Earlier this year, four people including two children in Barrie, Ontario were hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps caused by E. coli O157:H7 after drinking raw milk purchased from the back of a vehicle in the south end of Barrie.
While most people recover from E.coli O157:H7, 5-10 per cent of cases go on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which is characterized by kidney failure. It's not fun.
Regardless, raw, unpasteurized milk has been gaining in popularity as part of the growing organic and natural foods movement. Proponents say raw milk is healthier and better tasting than pasteurized, milk.
The glowing media coverage of all things natural abounds. The Associated Press gushed on Nov. 25, 2005, that "Kelsey Kozack's kitchen is a dairy wonderland. Fresh cheeses, yogurt and quarts of fresh raw milk abound, all compliments of Iris, a gentle tan cow who grazes on the family's seven-acre property." Kelsey was quoted as saying, "After you've been drinking raw milk for a while, you can't drink store-bought again. It has a lot more flavor and is healthier."
Tell that to the kids in hospital with a potentially fatal illness.
Washington state health officials note that there was an E. coli outbreak last year involving three people in Whatcom County tied to illegal raw milk, and in 2003, three people in Yakima County and eight in Skagit County became ill from tainted milk.
Earlier this year the New York State health department warned against consumption of some imported Mexican cheeses made from unpasteurized milk after identifying 35 cases from 2001 to 2004, including one infant death in 2004, attributed to Mycobacterium bovis, a form of TB found in cattle.
And in 2004, an Edmonton-area cheese producer abandoned the business after a Gouda cheese made from unpasteurized milk led to 11 cases of E.coli O157:H7 poisoning, including a two-year-old girl who developed HUS from the infection.
There are too many other such cases to mention.
Under federal law in Canada it is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk because of the risk of transmitting disease from microorganisms like E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which are eliminated during the process of pasteurization. And in Ontario, if you’re caught selling, or even giving away raw milk, the fine can be as much as $5,000.
In the U.S., unpasteurized milk is legally allowed for sale in 28 states. In Washington state, the farm must be licensed through the state and each bottle must have a warning label.
Dee Creek Dairy, the suspected source of the latest outbreak, was not licensed.
Media accounts note that the farm is owned by Michael and Anita Puckett, and Anita Puckett was interviewed in a previous media account, saying they already had sold 40 milk "shares." Raw milk is often sold in "shares" as in shares of a cow.
Raw milk drinkers believe the pasteurized milk found on grocery store shelves lack the essential enzymes and nutrients necessary to absorb calcium -- yet research shows this is simply not the case. The only things lacking in pasteurized milk are the bacteria that make people -- especially kids -- seriously ill.
With proper testing, it may be possible to offer a safe, unpasteurized product to the consuming public. But the onus is on producers to show the rest of us that data. Adults, do whatever you think works, but please, don't impose your dietary regimes on your kids. Flowery words don't do much for kids in the hospital.
Dr. Douglas Powell is scientific director of the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph. The Food Safety Network's national toll-free line for obtaining food safety information is1-866-50-FSNET (1-866-503-7638) and further information is available at Visit our blogs at,, and