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What's the Scoop on Raw Milk in Michigan?

The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) number one priority is assuring the food grown, transported and processed in the state is safe and wholesome. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), raw milk is unsafe and should not be consumed. FDA's position is consistent with that of the American Medical Association stating, "All milk sold for human consumption should be required to be pasteurized."

Milk, as an animal product, is fundamentally different from other agricultural commodities sold off the farm such as fruits and vegetables. Unpasteurized (raw) milk can transmit organisms like E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter that cause serious, sometimes deadly foodborne illness, in humans . These pathogens can unfortunately cause much more than vomiting and diarrhea, especially in highly susceptible foodborne illness groups such as children, senior citizens and immuno-compromised individuals.

In December 2005, FDA issued a warning advising consumers to avoid drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk due to an outbreak in Washington State and Oregon that was linked to the consumption of unpasteurized (raw) milk contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7 obtained by consumers directly from a dairy farm. Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 illness include stomach cramps and diarrhea/bloody diarrhea. E. coli O157:H7 disease sometimes leads to a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure. Public health officials in Washington and Oregon identified 18 people who developed symptoms consistent with E. coli infection. Five children were hospitalized with two needing critical care and life support during the incident.

In 1948, Michigan was the first state to require that all milk sold to consumers be pasteurized. Pasteurization is simply the process of heating milk for a defined period of time to a specific temperature, effectively killing most or all of the harmful pathogens present in raw milk. Because of this practice, the spread of diseases such as diphtheria, streptococcal infections, typhoid fever, brucellosis, tuberculosis, listeriosis, and campylobacteriosis through the milk supply has been virtually eliminated. The Michigan Legislature reaffirmed this important food safety principle in 2001 when it continued the prohibition on the sale of unpasteurized (raw) milk to consumers through a rewrite and update of the state's dairy laws. FDA banned the interstate shipment of unpasteurized (raw) milk to consumers in 1987, garnering the United States worldwide recognition as having the gold standard for milk safety and reducing the annual number of raw milk-related illness outbreaks by about half.

MDARD works diligently to help farmers add value to their products and establish small, on-farm pasteurization plants for safely bottling milk and making cheese and/or selling directly to the public. Michigan's dairy laws do not prohibit dairy farmers from selling milk directly to consumers if the farms meet pasteurization requirements. MDA encourages small, on-farm pasteurization plants and direct sales to consumers are allowed when products are safe and wholesome.

Michigan consumers deserve the public health benefits provided by safe, wholesome, pasteurized dairy products. The state's pasteurization requirements have successfully protected our consumers for more than 50 years and the Michigan Department of Agriculture strongly advocates all consumers drink only safely pasteurized milk.

For more information about raw milk and milk pasteurization, please visit the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition online call the toll-free hotline at 1- 888-INFO-FDA.