Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Raw milk consumption- Hazards and their control

Milk is a life sustaining food that can provide almost all the nutrients required by a human being. The dairy industry as we know to day is a high tech venture that involves high expenditure to ensure that the consumers get only safe milk after necessary tests are done. Consider the plight of vegetarians whose dietary habits do not permit consumption of high protein foods like egg, meat and fish and who depend on milk for deriving most of their protein requirements. For them milk is elixir of life though there are a few protein sources in the plant kingdom that can furnish proteins in the diet, albeit of a lower quality nutritionally. Since the world has moved away from small sized milk farms serving locally to huge mechanized and automated dairy conglomerates with adequate infrastructure to distribute their products over thousands of kilometers with absolute guaranteed safety, most consumers do not bother about safety relying heavily on the industry to ensure the same. It is only recently that a small movement started some years ago by some people to consume raw milk has grown into a phenomenon attracting all round attention. Though food scientists will never vouch safe for the safety of raw milk without pasteurization, those patronizing this product are least deterred and if latest reports are to be believed raw milk consumption is growing in a country like the US where there are sizeable patrons posing challenge to the organized dairy sector. Read further to understand and form your own opinion regarding this new phenomenon. 

"The numbers say it all. There were only six raw-milk dairies in the state in 2006. There are now 39 — more than double the number in 2013 when there were 18. All are Grade A licensed dairies, which means their milk must meet the same food-safety standards as milk from conventional dairies. State officials say the number of raw-milk dairies will likely continue to climb. Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a high enough temperature to kill disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli , Salmonella andlisteria. Health officials warn that children are especially vulnerable to pathogens in raw milk, primarily because their immune systems are still developing. State law in Washington requires that all retail raw milk products carry a warning label that states: "WARNING:  This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria.  Pregnant women, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease have the highest risk of harm from use of this product." Despite numerous outbreaks and recalls of raw milk across the country and warnings from federal and state agencies about the potential dangers associated with drinking raw milk, demand is strong. And continues to grow. A passionate lot, raw-milk advocates have a range of reasons for avoiding pasteurized milk. Many say they can drink raw milk without experiencing allergic reactions such as bloating and other digestive discomforts. Others like that it often comes from family farms, in contrast to what they refer to as "factory farms." Still others laud it for its power to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to cancer — claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are anecdotal and not based on science. And, most raw-milk consumers say that it just plain tastes better. "The real deal" is a popular rallying cry in raw-milk circles. "The cat's been let out of the bag, and no one's going to be able to put it back in," said Jim Sinnema, owner the Old Silvana Creamery north of Seattle, referring to the growing popularity of raw milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk. In other words, raw milk produced in one state cannot be sold in another state. The U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance requires that milk sold across state lines be pasteurized and meet the standards of the ordinance. A dozen states currently allow raw milk sales at retail outlets. Among them are California, Idaho and Pennsylvania. However, the milk has to meet certain  standards, usually Grade A standards. Sixteen states ban raw milk altogether. With Washington state's requirement that raw-milk dairies be licensed as Grade A, the operations must be inspected and have their milk tested on a regular basis. It's a practical way for dealing with reality. If raw-milk sales are illegal, say many public health officials, consumers will seek it out anyway, putting themselves and their families at risk. Here's the rub — raw milk requires more tests than conventional milk. Yong Liu, manager of  the microbiology lab at Washington state's Agriculture Department, said since raw milk is not pasteurized, it must also be tested for foodborne pathogens, in addition to the same quality-control tests performed on pasteurized milk. The five pathogen tests are for Salmonella, Listeria, campylobacter and two types of E. coli. Up to nine tests are often conducted on raw-milk samples. Washington officials say raw milk is one of the highest risk food products for sale in the state."

Milk is a rich food and naturally it is more vulnerable to spoilage by many bacteria within a matter of few hours causing irreparable damage to its flavor, taste and texture. In a country like India where milking is done manually without using vacuum machines, the shelf life can be expected to be extremely short. Fresh milk vending still exists in the country but care is taken to deliver the extracted milk within a couple of hours and the buyers do not lose any time to boil the milk to kill all microorganisms which may be present in the product. If the maintenance of cows are scientifically efficient, if the milking person is hygienically "clean", if the utensils are washed thoroughly and if the milk is immediately chilled there is no reason why it should not keep for a day or two without "splitting". But large scale distribution of raw milk may be inconceivable in India because of the sanitation limitations at all levels. As for the claims that raw milk is superior to pasteurized milk, the jury is still out and unless scientifically proven will not stand critical scrutiny. As long as the avowed devotees of raw milk are prepared to take "risks", no one can grudge their privileges, if one can all them so!


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