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Raw milk causes most dairy-related disease outbreaks, CDC says

February 22, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • A dairy farmer moves buckets of raw milk at a Nestle SA milk collection center in Shuangcheng, China.
A dairy farmer moves buckets of raw milk at a Nestle SA milk collection center… (Nelson Ching / Bloomberg )

A sour note for the raw-milk fans out there: Unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause a disease outbreak than pasteurized milk, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before it ever shows up in a carton, most milk is pasteurized -- heated to kill any harmful bacteria it contains. But there's a small but thriving market for unpasteurized "raw" milk. Some say they drink it because it has a richer, creamier taste, according to a 2009 article -- but more often the reason given is because, in this organic-conscious age, it's seen as more healthful. 

Perhaps it depends on how you define "healthful." The CDC report, published Tuesday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, looked at all reports of dairy-related disease outbreak in the United States from 1993 to 2006 and found that, of the 121 outbreaks, 60% were caused by raw milk products (which would include cheese and yogurt).

That's all the more startling, given that, according to the CDC estimate, only 1% of dairy products during that 13-year time period were from raw milk.

Why is 1% of the dairy products causing 60% of the trouble? It's probably because even when cows are milked in the cleanest of conditions, some bacteria -- salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter among them -- manage to slip by. And unfortunately, they can't be smelled, tasted or seen by unsuspecting consumers.

Not that this will change most raw-milk aficionados' opinions on the subject -- judging by the reaction to raw-milk stings in Los Angeles.

But those who are curious can visit the CDC’s page for more on raw milk.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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