For Immediate Release
December 4, 2007

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

KDHE and KDA Remind Consumers of Health Risks Tied to Raw Milk

Following two outbreaks of campylobacteriosis that made at least 87 people ill, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Agriculture are advising the public to avoid consuming raw milk or products made from raw milk.

Campylobacteriosis is an intestinal infection caused by the bacteria Campylobacter. Infection often causes diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, headache and muscle pain.

In the first outbreak in southwest Kansas, 68 people became ill after eating cheese made from raw (unpasteurized) milk donated by a local dairy for a community celebration. Nineteen people were ill enough to seek medical attention, and two people were hospitalized.  Four of these persons tested positive for Campylobacter jejuni; no other food items served at the event were associated with illness.

The second outbreak is linked to a dairy in south central Kansas that sells raw milk directly to consumers.  As of November 30, 2007, 19 cases of campylobacteriosis had been reported.  Each person reported drinking raw milk purchased from the dairy.

Although most people with campylobacteriosis recover within seven to 10 days, rare complications such as reactive arthritis, hemolytic uremic syndrome and Guillian-Barre syndrome can develop.

Pasteurization is the only effective method for eliminating disease-causing bacteria in raw milk and milk products. It is a simple process that involves heating the milk to a high temperature for a short period of time. This heat treatment destroys harmful germs but it does not harm the nutritional value of milk and cheese. Pasteurization also can prevent diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio, Q fever, salmonellosis, strep throat, scarlet fever and typhoid fever from being transmitted through milk.

Although it is against federal law to sell raw milk across state lines, Kansas law allows raw milk and raw milk products to be sold or donated directly to the final consumer if the transaction takes place on the dairy farm where the raw milk was produced.  All containers and signs on the farm must indicate the milk is “raw, unpasteurized.” There can be no advertising other than the sign erected on the farm, and door-to-door sales and/or delivery of raw milk are prohibited.

All milk sold in retail stores must be pasteurized.

Raw milk, whether it’s from cows, sheep or goats, can carry dangerous microorganisms like Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing many food borne illnesses. Getting sick from one of these can lead to diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, headache, vomiting, or exhaustion. The illnesses can be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, children and people with cancer, an organ transplant or HIV/AIDS. Bacteria found in raw milk and raw dairy products can be especially dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Many persons continue to drink raw milk but consumers need to be aware of the health risks associated with consuming raw milk and products made with raw milk. Raw milk produced on even the most sanitary dairy farms can contain harmful bacteria. Pasteurization is the only way to be sure the milk is safe.