Thursday, November 17, 2011

Raw Milk: Not Safe

Each year, almost every person in the United States will get sick with an acute gastrointestinal episode. Almost all of these illnesses are related to foodborne pathogens contaminating our food anywhere along the chain from the producer to our dining table. And while most of us will recover, common foodborne pathogens can be life threatening to many of our patients, especially the very young, pregnant women, and persons with certain chronic health conditions.

The challenge for physicians is to encourage patients to make responsible decisions that include a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods produced, transported and prepared in accord with time-tested, science-based food safety regulations and standards.

The consumption of raw milk, under the mistaken belief that it is healthier than pasteurized milk, constitutes a serious problem that often endangers some of our most vulnerable patients — children. The scientific evidence is very clear: raw milk provides no proven health benefits and poses serious health risks when compared to pasteurized milk. 

A major recall of unpasteurized milk has just been ordered in California following the serious illness of young children who consumed the product. The public needs to understand that their local and state health departments simply do not have the resources to assure the safety of raw milk. A prudent society would not allow raw milk to be marketed, distributed, or sold to anyone, much less to children.

Every time I discuss infectious diseases with medical students, I teach them about “behavioral immunity.” Certain behaviors, such as hand washing, avoidance of unprotected sexual intercourse, and simple common sense regarding what we eat and drink, protect us from infectious diseases. The consumption of raw milk constitutes impaired “behavioral immunity” and places the individual at unacceptable risk in return for no proven health benefit. 

Edward J. Sherwood, MD, FACP 
Vice Dean at Texas A&M HSC College of Medicine
Round Rock, Texas

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