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Our next door neighbor, on learning yesterday that I’m a food safety microbiologist, asked me whether there were any foods I avoided. “I don’t eat raw sprouts,” I replied,”And I don’t drink raw milk.

One month ago today, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that raw milk supplied to a school event by a local farm infected 16 people with Campylobacter jejuni. The identical strain of Campylobacter was recovered from stool samples obtained from the 16 victims and from milk samples collected from the farm’s bulk milk tank.

According to a July 15th report in Food Safety News, a parent of one of the Wisconsin school children went to a relative’s farm and collected raw milk from the farm’s bulk milk tank to bring to the event. The farm does not sell raw milk to consumers; it supplies milk to a licensed dairy for pasteurization.

On June 27th, the Alaska Division of Public Health reported on a cluster of 4 cases of Campylobacter; all four victims were infected with the same strain of Campylobacter jejuni. All four people reported drinking raw milk from the same cow-share farm in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley – the only common element. Two of the 4 victims reported that a total of three family members also had experienced symptoms of acute gastroenteritis, but had not sought medical treatment. The three unreported victims also had consumed raw milk from the same farm.

Yesterday, FDA announced that it was investigating – in conjunction with officials in North Carolina and South Carolina – three confirmed cases and an additional five probable cases of campylobacteriosis in people who drank raw milk from Tucker Adkins Dairy in York, SC. One of the three confirmed victims was hospitalized. The eight confirmed and probable victims all report having consumed raw milk obtained from the dairy on June 14, 2011. The victims come from three different households.

Most Campylobacter infections are relatively mild and short-lived. Nevertheless, Campylobacter, which is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the USA, sometims produces severe illness – including bloody diarrhea – and is estimated to cause approximately 124 deaths annually in the United States. Campylobacter also is responsible for as many as 40% of the cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome reported annually in the US. Guillain-Barré is an autoimmune disease typified by paralysis that lasts for several weeks, and usually requiring intensive care.

FDA is urging consumers not to drink raw milk from Tucker Adkins Dairy. In my opinion, that warning doesn’t go far enough. To understand the risks, please check out Real Raw Milk Facts.

When you’re done, perhaps you will appreciate why I don’t drink raw milk.

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