Risks Associated with Consumption of Unpasteurized Dairy Products  

Each year, people become ill from drinking raw milk and eating foods made from raw dairy products. Unlike most milk, cheese and dairy products sold in the United States, raw milk and raw dairy products have not been heat treated or pasteurized to kill bacteria. In Illinois, it is illegal to sell these products to the public. However, many people, including dairy producers, farm workers and their families, and some ethnic groups, continue to drink raw milk and eat foods made from raw dairy products. U.S. citizens who travel overseas also may unknowingly consume unpasteurized dairy products.

Illness caused by unpasteurized dairy products

In the United States, raw milk and raw dairy products may contain disease-causing pathogens such as Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella and Yersinia. Outside the United States, unpasteurized dairy products may also contain Brucella and Mycobacteria. When raw milk or raw milk products become contaminated, people who eat the contaminated foods can become ill.

Illness due to these bacteria can lead to diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, headache and vomiting. These symptoms typically last anywhere from several hours to a week or more but most healthy people will recover. Illness acquired outside the United States can include flu-like illness, recurring fever, night sweats and cough. These illnesses can become serious and medical attention should be sought.

Illness can be severe in people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, children, people with cancer, organ transplant recipients or individuals with HIV/AIDS. Bacteria found in raw milk and raw dairy products can be especially dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Pasteurization is the key to making dairy products safe

Heat-treating milk to kill germs is called pasteurization. Pasteurization was first used to prevent transmission of tuberculosis through milk. Today, pasteurization is still our main protection from bacteria present in milk and cheese.

Pasteurization is a simple process. Raw milk is heated to a high temperature for a short period of time destroying any harmful bacteria that may be contaminating the milk. After pasteurization, milk, and products made from milk, are safe for human consumption. Pasteurization does not decrease the nutritional value of milk and cheese.

Mexican-style cheese safety

Outbreaks of Salmonella have been associated with illegally manufactured Mexican-style cheeses, such as queso fresco, popular in Latino communities. Consumers are strongly warned not to buy or consume cheese that is suspected to be made by an unlicensed producer.

Legitimate, wholesome Mexican-style cheeses are available in the refrigerator case at retail stores and are authenticated by label information specifying the following: the legal name of the product, the name and address of distributor or processor, the quantity of contents, an ingredient statement and, in most cases, the nutrition facts.

Mexican-style cheese purchased from a deli and packaged at the time of sale is required to be labeled with the common or usual name of the product and the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor. The product is then weighed and priced at the time of sale. Nutrition facts and other information required for packaged cheese must be available upon request.

For more information

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/cheesespotlight/cheese_spotlight.htm

Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/2005/NEW01165.html

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Illinois Department of Public Health
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Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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