Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Characteristics of Consumers of Unpasteurized Milk in the United States

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Characteristics of Consumers of Unpasteurized Milk in the United States

Article excerpt

Abstract

Despite considerable scientific evidence about the health risks of drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk, advocates continue to lobby for the reduction of state regulatory restrictions on the sale of unpasteurized milk. Multivariate analyses were performed on 1998-1999, 2002-2003 and 2006-2007 FoodNet Population Survey data to determine characteristics of unpasteurized milk consumers. Across all years of the survey, 3.4% of respondents reported consuming unpasteurized milk at some point in the previous seven days. Our findings indicate that unpasteurized milk drinkers in the states covered by the analysis are more likely to be Hispanic, less educated and of lower income than non-drinkers and they are more likely to report drinking unpasteurized juice.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that individuals should increase their intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese, as part of a healthful diet (December 2010). For milk and milk products to be healthful, these foods must be free of harmful pathogens. Unpasteurized milk (informally called "raw milk") has a relatively high likelihood of being contaminated with pathogens because it has not undergone the pasteurization process, designed to kill disease-causing pathogens. Fecal contamination during the milking process is the primary source of foodborne pathogens in milk (Oliver et al. 2005). Consumption of contaminated milk can cause severe disease in humans, whether it is unpasteurized milk or pasteurized milk contaminated after pasteurization (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2011). Despite the health risks associated with consuming unpasteurized milk, there has been a growing demand for unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized milk products (e.g., specialty cheeses) in recent years (Associated Press 2008).

Pasteurization is one of the most effective strategies used to improve milk safety. Pasteurization involves heating milk to a defined temperature for a predetermined time to kill illness-causing bacteria (LeJeune and Rajala-Schultz 2009). These pathogens include Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Salmonella spp., Yersinia and Staphylococcus (Oliver et al. 2005, 2009), which have been associated with sporadic illness and outbreaks of illness in humans. Pasteurization also extends milk's shelf life by killing organisms that cause food spoilage.

Federal regulation requiring the pasteurization of milk in the United States is one of the major public health success stories of the 20th century (Weisbecker 2007). In the early 1900s, milk-associated illness was such a concern that the first foodborne disease outbreak summary in the United States, published in 1923, focused exclusively on milk-associated pathogens (Collins 1997). In 1938, when outbreak summaries were also compiled for other foods, 25% of all foodborne and waterborne disease outbreaks were attributed to milk (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2009). By the 1950s, the number of illnesses and outbreaks associated with consumption of contaminated milk and dairy products was dramatically reduced as a result of local, state and federal regulations recommending milk pasteurization. By 2008, milk was implicated in less than one percent of reported foodborne disease outbreaks (Gould et al. 2011). From 1993 to 2006, 122 outbreaks (4,413 illnesses) attributed to dairy products were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of 121 outbreaks for which the pasteurization status was known, 73 (60%) were linked to consumption of unpasteurized dairy products (Langer et al. 2012). This percentage is notable considering that unpasteurized milk makes up less than 1.0% of total milk sold (Headrick et al. 1998). More recent, peer-reviewed estimates of unpasteurized milk sales in the United States are not available. We analyzed data from three Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) Population Surveys to identify common characteristics of unpasteurized milk consumers. …

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