Health and Family Services Cabinet
State Public Health Officials Address Raw Milk Use in Kentucky
The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) wants consumers to be aware of the dangers of raw milk, an unpasteurized product that could potentially contain numerous life-threatening contaminants such as E. coli.
During the 2006 legislative session, DPH joined a task force, along with other agencies and individuals, to discuss the issue of raw milk in Kentucky and under what circumstances distribution and sales of raw milk products might be permitted.
“After several meetings, it was clear that there is no process or agreement that would assure the safety of raw unpasteurized milk, and that our citizens could not be assured of the safety of the product,” said William Hacker, M.D., DPH commissioner and Health and Family Services’ acting undersecretary for health.
Advocates of changing the law to allow raw or unpasteurized milk sales in Kentucky counter that raw milk does not pose a threat. However, health officials say, while raw milk may contain nutrients, unpasteurized milk may also contain potentially harmful bacteria and pathogens that can cause serious illness or even death.
Furthermore, DPH officials are concerned that although the sale of raw milk in Kentucky is not allowed by law due to the likelihood of illness, the legalization of raw milk sales has garnered some public attention.
“We do not recommend people eat raw hamburger, pork or fish because of the possibility of pathogens or illness-causing agents,” said Hacker. “We also do not recommend consuming a raw animal milk product.”
Since 1908, pasteurization has been used to assure the health and safety of milk after numerous outbreaks of illness due to consumption of raw milk and raw milk products. Heat in the pasteurization process treats the raw milk to eliminate the organisms that could otherwise cause illness.
Raw milk has been implicated in illness outbreaks in several states. In December 2002, a raw milk dairy in Ohio sickened 62 people due to salmonella in the raw milk. An outbreak attributed to drinking raw milk in December 2005 in Washington state sickened 17 individuals because of E. coli in the raw milk, and in March 2005, raw milk cheese sold in New York was linked to dozens who became ill with tuberculosis in the raw milk. A 14-month-old child died as a result.
The most recent raw milk outbreaks were in California and Washington state in 2006 where six people became ill from drinking raw milk contaminated with E. coli.
Raw milk can carry and pass on a number of illnesses, including: campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, hemolytic uremic syndrome from E. coli, listeriosis, tuberculosis, brucellosis, cryptosporidiosis, staphylococcal enterotoxin poisoning, q-fever and others that can cause severe disabling problems and even death. This is especially critical in the elderly, people who are immune-compromised and in children.
“There is no way to ensure whether the raw milk you consume contains these illness-causing agents,” said Hacker. “Raw milk, no matter how carefully it was produced, may be unsafe.”
DPH officials assure consumers that Kentucky dairy farmers, dairy producers and milk plants do a professional job of ensuring the raw product they begin with is a pasteurized, safe and nutritious product when delivered.