Parents have been warned not to give their children unpasteurised (raw) milk after a 3 year old died and 4 other young children fell seriously ill after drinking this unprocessed milk in Australia.
What is raw milk?
It’s milk that has come direct from the cow without the pasteurisation process. Pasteurisation destroys many harmful bacteria commonly found in cows’ milk, including Salmonella, E coli, and Listeria. Raw milk may contain TB bacteria.
Raw milk has increased in popularity with people looking for natural, organic foods. It’s claimed that raw milk contains ‘good’ bacteria and nutrients that are killed in the pasteurisation process – however, a recent study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found no evidence of this.
Is it legal in the UK?
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, raw milk is legal. It isn’t available in supermarkets and can only be bought direct from a regulated dairy farm. Raw milk must carry a health warning but is sold as a drink. In Scotland, raw milk can not be sold.
In the Australian state of Victoria, where the toddler died, it is illegal to sell raw milk as a drink, but it can be sold as a cosmetic product. The milk that caused the child’s death was called Mountain View Organic Bath Milk. It was labelled very clearly as not being fit for human consumption.
However, the owner of the Mountain View Farm where the organic bath milk is produced admitted she’s aware that people drink the raw milk, according to Australian news site, The Age. “I know people drink it. It is a raw product – I don’t know why people drink it. I mean, I guess they feel that it’s healthy,” the farm owner Vicki Jones said.
What health warnings have been issued?
Following the toddler’s death, the Chief Health Officer in Victoria’s health department, Dr Rosemary Lester issued a warning about the health risks from drinking raw milk.
“Everyone is vulnerable to illness caused by the pathogens present in raw milk, but the risks are even greater for young children and for the elderly, those with underlying health problems, immunocompromised or pregnant,” she said. Dairy farmers can’t guarantee unpasteurised milk is free from harmful bacteria because “it’s impossible to sterilise milk without pasteurisation,” she added.
In the UK, the FSA repeated its advice just last month that young children and vulnerable people, including pregnant women, should not drink raw milk. This followed 6 cases of infection by the very dangerous strain of E coli (O157) due to drinking raw milk from 3 separate farms.
According to the FSA website, it is currently conducting a review of its raw milk drinking controls.
Is it safe to give your child unpasteurised cheese?
Cheeses made with unpasteurised milk undergo production processes which help to reduce the risk of dangerous bacteria and pathogens in the cheese. However, it is still safer to give your child cheese that has been pasteurised.