Why An Alarm Is Being Raised About Raw Milk In New York

Unpasteurized cow's milk from a dairy in Orange County, New York has recently been deemed dangerous to consume by that state's Department of Agriculture and Markets. Food Safety News is reporting that during inspection in late April, the department found evidence of Listeria monocytogenes contamination in raw milk from Thomas Miller, dba Miller Dairy Farm of Pine Island New York, located about 75 miles north of New York City. Consumers would have had to acquire the raw milk directly from the producer, as retail sales of raw milk are prohibited in New York State (via Progressive Dairy). A November 2019 Facebook post from the farm shows a refrigerated case of milk and reads "Fresh Raw Milk $5/gal." 

Unpasteurized, or "raw" milk is milk that has not undergone the process of heat treatment that is designed to kill microorganisms in dairy products like as milk and cheese, according to a raw milk fact sheet from the New York Department of Health. Raw milk (and raw milk cheese) can contain not only the Listeria bacteria found in the Miller Dairy Farm sample, but Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia, Brucella, and Coxiella bacteria as well. These pathogens can cause anything from mild food poisoning to serious illness and hospitalization.

Listeria is especially risky to children, elderly, pregnant people

Symptoms of listeria infection can include fever, muscle aches, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, headache, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (via Mayo Clinic). While healthy adults can usually tolerate consumption of the bacteria, children, people who are pregnant, the elderly, and those whose immune systems may be compromised (such as those with HIV, who have had organ transplants, or those with cancer) are especially at risk from serious, even life-threatening illness from foodborne pathogens such as listeria. Mayo Clinic says prompt treatment is essential if listeriosis is suspected. Surprisingly, some symptoms can present themselves up 70 days after ingestion of the pathogen, says Food Safety News.

A statement from the New York Department of Agriculture instructs anyone who may have purchased unpasteurized milk from this producer to dispose of it and contact Miller Dairy Farm at (845) 772-2492.

Unpasteurized milk accounts for less than 1% of the milk sold in the United States (per Encyclopedia of Dairy Sciences), but it can pose serious health risks for those who do choose to consume it. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported raw dairy items are 840 times more likely to cause foodborne illnesses than milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy items that have undergone the pasteurization process.

The Agriculture Department warning reads, in part, "Pasteurization of milk is recognized internationally as an effective means of preventing outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, including listeriosis."