If you live in West Michigan, you probably heard about the people who were supposedly sickened by consuming raw milk last week. (Read article here) I say supposedly because the milk that the sickened people consumed was never tested for e. Coli by the Health Department so they cannot confirm that, in fact, the milk caused these folks to be hospitalized. The farm that produces the milk is tested frequently (including by their wholesale buyer, Horizon Organics) and never once had a positive test for any bacteria like e. coli, listeria, campylobacter, salmonella, etc.
It’s very frustrating to hear these accusations being thrown around by the Health Department when there have been 11 reported cases of e. coli due to a ground beef recall from a Michigan packing house this week alone. (Read article here) This news story is getting very little attention yet the Health Department has confirmed that the e. coli originated from this packing house with meat being distributed all over Michigan and the Midwest. Still, the USDA, MDARD and Health Departments tell us it’s completely safe to consume ground beef from these packing houses, but we should drink raw milk at our own risk.
Using the CDC’s own numbers, Chris Kresser, Integrative Medicine Practitioner, calculates the ACTUAL risk of illness that requires hospitalization as a direct result of consuming raw milk (Read article here) to be 1 in 6 million. Pretty good when you consider that (again, according to the CDC’s own numbers) your risk of consuming MANY other conventionally produced food products is far greater:
- Seafood caused 29 times more illnesses than dairy
- Poultry caused 15 times more illnesses than dairy
- Eggs caused 13 times more illnesses than dairy
- Beef caused 11 times more illnesses than dairy
- Pork caused 8 times more illnesses than dairy
- Produce caused 4 times more more illnesses than dairy
*In the CDC stats, “dairy” actually includes sickness from BOTH pasteurized and unpasteurized dairy products.*
Kresser concludes that “when it comes to foodborne illness, dairy should be the least of your concerns.” This isn’t all to say that safety shouldn’t be an issue with all your food, and especially dairy products. We take a number of precautions to ensure that the milk we produce is safe and healthy.
The foundation of our feeding program is, of course, pasture. Grass is a cows’ natural diet and not only provides lots of nutrition to support their immune system, but rotational grazing ensures that they move away from excrement and remain clean all over their body. Just like in humans, a healthy immune system and clean environment and essential to good health.
During milking, we wash the entire udder with a bleach-water rinse to remove any dirt, manure, and bacteria that may have congregated on their body. We finish with iodine before attaching the vacuum milker that is airtight, leaving no room for particles in the air to enter the system. If even a fly lands on their udder, the entire area of the cow must be re-sanitized and the process starts over to ensure safety.
Once the milk flows through the milker, it is collected in a food-grade stainless steel can which is cooled immediately after milking is complete. The faster the cooling of the milk, the better the quality and taste of the milk. After the milker is removed from the udder, each teat is dunked in an iodine wax to seal the udder, preventing bacteria from entering the teat and causing an infection, like mastitis.
All of these measures are taken in addition to a minimum of monthly milk testing, more if a new cow calves and comes on the line. If there are bacteria present in the milk, we need to know for our cow share members’ safety and the health of the cows. Pasteurization masks a multitude of sins – from poor feed and living conditions, to the lack of sanitation of equipment and the use of prophylactic antibiotics – pasteurization kills everything so many good management practices fall by the wayside and consequently, the nutritional value of the milk itself.
So, what are the benefits to consuming raw milk? And why did we start pasteurizing milk in the first place? Stay tuned for those answers in our next blog post!