Potential Dangers of Unpasteurized Dairy Products

By Kim Smiley

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illness outbreaks than pasteurized dairy.  The CDC found that there were 73 disease outbreaks, two deaths and many permanent disabilities caused by the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products from 1993 to 2006.  Pasteurized dairy products aren’t perfect either.  According to the same report there were 48 disease outbreaks from contaminated pasteurized milk and cheese resulting in thousands of illnesses and one death during the same time period.  But the CDC determined that unpasteurized milk is a far greater risk since more illnesses were caused by it and it is estimated that only about one percent of the population consumed unpasteurized dairy products.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, an intuitive, visual format for performing a root cause analysis.  In this example, the safety goal was obviously impacted since hundreds got sick from consuming unpasteurized milk.  The Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and adding the information onto the Cause Map in order to show the cause and effect relationships between all the factors that contributed to the issue.  In this example, people got sick because they were exposed to harmful microorganisms.  This occurred because unpasteurized milk is more likely to be contaminated with harmful microorganisms and consumers drank unpasteurized milk.

Unpasteurized milk is more likely to be contaminated because by definition it isn’t heated to kill microorganisms.  During the pasteurization process, milk is heated to 161 degrees and held there for about 20 seconds to kill anything harmful that might be in the milk.  There is the potential for all milk to get contaminated because cow manure is a potential source of contamination and it’s a constant in the environment where milk is produced.

People drink unpasteurized milk because they prefer it and it’s legal to buy in many states.  Some consumers prefer unpasteurized milk for a number of reasons.  Unpasteurized milk has a distinct taste some people like.  There is also a general trend of people moving towards less processed foods.  The pasteurization processes decreases the amount of a few nutrients in milk so some people think that unpasteurized milk is healthier for them.  There are also a number of people who believe that unpasteurized milk has healing properties.  There are testimonies that unpasteurized dairy products have reversed a number of health issues, including allergies, asthma, digestive disorders, arthritis and behavior problems in children.

There are some who believe the sale of all unpasteurized diary should be banned because of the risk of contamination and the resulting illnesses, but unpasteurized dairy has very active, vocal advocates that believe strongly that its sale and consumption should be legal.  Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration urge consumers to avoid unpasteurized dairy products because of the potential health risks.