Report: States With Legal Raw Milk Sales See Higher Rate of Disease

Outbreaks due to raw milk were 150 times greater from 1993 to 2006.
by | February 22, 2012

States where the sale of non-pasteurized (or raw) milk is legal experienced more than twice the rate of dairy-related outbreaks as states where it is not, according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC study analyzed dairy-related outbreaks from 1993 to 2006 in all 50 states, comparing the total dairy output in the United States during that time (2.7 trillion pounds) to the estimated amount that was consumed raw (1 percent or 27 billion pounds). According to the analysis, the rate of outbreaks linked to raw milk products, which include cheese and yogurt, was 150 times greater than those caused by pasteurized milk.

The study found that 75 percent of the outbreaks caused by raw milk occurred in 21 states where the sale of non-pasteurized milk is legal. Several states changed their laws during the study period, according to the CDC: Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin from legal to illegal; Arkansas, Illinois and Nevada from illegal to legal; and Oregon outlawed the sale of raw milk in 1999 then legalized it again in 2005.

The CDC examined a total of 121 dairy-related outbreaks, which included 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations and three deaths. State health officials concluded that more than half of the outbreaks were caused by raw milk, as were nearly all of the hospitalizations.

The CDC noted that people can’t determine if raw milk is safe to consume by looking at, smelling or tasting it.

“Restricting the sale of raw milk products is likely to reduce the number of outbreaks and can help keep people healthier,” Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said in a statement. “The states that allow sale of raw milk will probably continue to see outbreaks in the future.”

In 1948, Michigan became the first state to require the pasteurization of milk, according to the study. In 1987, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlawed the interstate sale of non-pasteurized milk, but intrastate sales are still regulated at the state level.

States that allow the sale of raw milk are shaded in gray in the map below, included by the CDC in the study. The map tracks the changes in states laws from 1993 (A) to 1999 (B) to 2006 (C). States outlined in black changed their laws during the study period.

Source: CDC

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