The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s Panel on Biological Hazards recently published a Scientific Opinion that concluded that the risks associated with drinking raw milk need to be better communicated to consumers. Tasked with identifying the risks associated with drinking unpasteurized, or raw, milk, the panel concluded that there are “clear links” between consumption of raw milk and many human illnesses.
The panel considered the 27 outbreaks of human illnesses that have involved raw milk and have occurred within the last five years. Most of these outbreaks were due to raw cow’s milk, and four were due to raw goat’s milk. The illnesses were predominantly associated with the presence of campylobacter, which causes the human illness campylobacteriosis, in the identified raw milk product. This disease is one of the most common diarrheal illnesses.
While the sale of raw milk in vending machines, a practice that is permitted in some EU countries, was noted as one potential risk factor, the opinion did not identify specific preventative measures that could provide a significant reduction in risk of disease from the consumption of raw milk. The opinion stated that “good animal health and husbandry, together with the application of good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good hygienic practices (GHPs), are essential to minimise opportunities for contamination of [raw milk] with pathogens in the production to consumption chain.”
Owing to the lack of epidemiological data for this issue across Europe, the panel could not assess the total burden of disease linked to the consumption of raw milk. As a result, the panel called for better data collection on the risk so that milk-borne hazards could be properly identified. The panel’s overall recommendation was for “improved risk communication to consumers, particularly susceptible/high risk populations, regarding the hazards and control methods associated with consumption of [raw drinking milk].”