Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Associated with Nonpasteurized Dairy Products

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has completed a review of foodborne disease outbreaks associated with nonpasteurized dairy products in the United States from 1993-2006.  The report, which has been published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, summarizes the results of an analysis of 121 outbreaks associated with dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known.

Among these 121 outbreaks, 73 (60%) involved nonpasteurized products and resulted in 1,571 cases, 202 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths.  Consumption of nonpasteurized dairy products caused a disproportionate number of illnesses compared to pasteurized products.  Considering the total units of each that were consumed, nonpasteurized products were approximately 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness.  The CDC analysis also found that illnesses associated with consumption of nonpasteurized products also disproportionately affected persons <20 years of age.  States that restricted sale of nonpasteurized products had fewer outbreaks and illnesses, indicating that this is an effective measure to reduce the potential adverse public health impacts associated with consuming nonpasteurized dairy products.

The full text of the CDC analysis is available online at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/18/3/pdfs/11-1370.pdf

follow-up article published by Food Safety News titled “Dairy-Related Outbreaks, Illnesses, Recalls: 2010 to Present” catalogs an additional 32 outbreaks associated with dairy products since the beginning of 2010.  Among these 32 outbreaks, 24 outbreaks causing 309 illnesses were associated with raw dairy products.  During the same time frame, only 2 outbreaks causing 39 illnesses have been associated with pasteurized dairy products.

This research once again clearly documents the considerable risk associated with consumption of nonpasteurized dairy products, and particularly raw milk.  The 150-fold greater risk of foodborne illness associated with consumption of nonpasteurized versus pasteurized dairy products is extremely high and particularly concerning.

[For comparison, the relative risk of developing lung cancer for persons smoking >30 cigarettes per day compared to non-smokers ranges from 17- to 111-fold higher depending upon gender and the type of tumor (reference: Pesch et al. Int J Cancer. 2011 Nov 2. doi: 10.1002/ijc.27339. [Epub ahead of print]).]

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About Les Bourquin

Professor and Food Safety Specialist Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition Michigan State University
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