Food Poisoning Outbreak Linked to Raw Milk from South Carolina Dairy

A foodborne illness outbreak associated with raw milk from Tucker Adkins Dairy of York, South Carolina, involves three confirmed and five probable cases of campylobacteriosis in North Carolina, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced. According to the FDA, raw milk is unpasteurized milk from hoofed mammals, such as cows, sheep, or goats, that may contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria. The agency warns consumers not to drink raw milk from Tucker Adkins Dairy of York, S.C.

The raw milk associated with the illness was packaged in one-gallon containers and was distributed in North Carolina. It is unknown whether the raw milk had been distributed in other states as well. The FDA notes that the cases occurred in three different households and each case reports that prior to becoming ill raw milk obtained from Tucker Adkins Dairy on June 14, 2011 was consumed. The onset of illness in these cases occurred in mid-June resulting in one person being hospitalized.

The FDA is investigating the problem in collaboration with the North Carolina Division of Public Health and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The FDA is also working with state authorities to take appropriate action to address any product that may still be on the market.

Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States and usually infects consumers as a result of tainted poultry, milk, and water. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, followed by diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea, with these symptoms appearing two-to-five days after eating tainted food and lasting up to 10 days. Infections can lead to Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a potentially paralyzing illness that can leave victims with mild to severe neurological damage, as well the very dangerous, and sometimes fatal, meningitis. Symptoms of other illness caused by various bacteria commonly found in raw milk may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache and body ache. Most healthy individuals recover quickly from illness caused by raw milk; however, some people may have more severe illness, and the harmful bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, infants, young children, and people with weakened immune systems.

Although retail sale of raw milk is legal in South Carolina, it is illegal to distribute raw milk in final package form for direct human consumption via interstate commerce; retail sale of raw milk for human consumption is also illegal in North Carolina. In fact, it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in 22 states and the FDA bans sales of raw milk across state lines.

While consuming foods with less processing may appear to present a healthier choice, dangers exist when consuming milk and milk products that have not gone through the pasteurization process, notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pasteurization briefly heats milk at high temperatures killing most foodborne bacteria such as, Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, and Campylobacter. These and other bacteria, including those that cause Tuberculosis, Listeriosis, Diphtheria, and Brucella can be found in raw milk. The FDA notes that pasteurization is a reliable method for eliminating harmful bacteria from milk, and is the only method used in the U.S.

For decades, public health authorities, including the FDA and CDC, have expressed concerns about the hazards of drinking raw milk. Since 1987, the FDA has required all milk packaged for human consumption to be pasteurized before being introduced into interstate commerce. The FDA’s pasteurization requirement also applies to other milk products, with the exception of a few aged cheeses.

The CDC also notes that raw milk or raw milk products were implicated in 85 outbreaks that resulted in over 1,000 illnesses and two deaths in the U.S. during 1998-2005. In 1938, milk was the cause of 25 percent of all food- and water-related sickness. With the introduction of universal pasteurization—long considered one of the most successful public health endeavors of the last century—that number fell to one percent by 1993. Since all cases of food borne illness are not recognized and reported, the actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is probably greater.

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