About raw milk products

Farmstead cheese

Photographer: Michael Robinson, pic courtesy of Cheese Slices

Did you know there is such a thing as “Real Milk Activism”? These activists believe the only real milk is unpasteurised milk.

Currently, it is illegal in Australia to sell unpasteurised “raw” milk but Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is conducting a review that could (although it is unlikely, I suspect) see it hit the shelves.

Milk has caused very little illness in Australia over the past decade. According to the FSANZ paper A Risk Profile of Dairy Products in Australia:

Microbiological survey data for pasteurised dairy products in Australia show a very low incidence of hazards of public health significance in these products. Overseas data demonstrates that pathogens are frequently isolated from raw milk and raw milk products. Pathogens were detected in raw milk in 85% of 126 surveys identified in the literature.

In surveys of raw milk cheese pathogens were rarely detected. Pathogens are found infrequently in pasteurised milk and pasteurised milk products.

In Australia, illness from dairy products is rare. Between 1995-2004, there were only eleven reported outbreaks directly attributed to dairy products, eight of which were associated with consumption of unpasteurised milk. In other Australian outbreaks, dairy products were an ingredient of the responsible food vehicle identified as the source of infection. However,
dairy products are a component of many foods and it is often difficult to attribute the cause of an outbreak to a particular food ingredient. Microbiological survey data for pasteurised dairy products in Australia show a very low incidence of hazards of public health significance in these products.

While commercial dairy products have rarely been identified as sources of food-borne illness in Australia, there have been a number of reports of outbreaks associated with consumption of dairy products internationally. Unpasteurised dairy products are the most common cause of these dairy-associated outbreaks of illness.

Among the risks that are neutralised by pasteurisation are salmonella, listeria and e coli.

Raw milk cheeses may be on their way

FSANZ recently recommended permission for non-pasteurised hard to very hard cooked curd cheeses on the provision that there are new processing requirements for cheese production that state storage time, and moisture content requirements for these cheeses to ensure product safety.

FSANZ says it will “continue to look at permissions for other raw milk cheeses through a new proposal that will use the technical work already undertaken under P1007”.

Prominent cheese officionado, Will Studd, says the changes will be insignificant.

Raw drinking milk to remain illegal in Australia
In the words of the FSANZ:

The assessment work for P1007 concluded that raw drinking milk presents too high a risk to consider any permission in the Code. In the new proposal, FSANZ will be reviewing the current exemption that allows raw goat milk.

For raw drinking milk, even extremely good hygiene procedures won’t ensure dangerous pathogens aren’t present. Complications from bacteria that can contaminate these products can be extremely severe, such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) which can result in renal failure and death in otherwise healthy people.

People with increased vulnerability to diseases caused by these bacteria include young children, elderly people, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women and their foetuses.

What if a farmer sells you raw milk?

I wouldn’t ever sell it to you. I would lose my dairy farmer’s licence and face five-figure fines, as one man did for selling raw milk for “cosmetic purposes” earlier this year. Worse still,  I couldn’t live with myself if, despite our best efforts to deliver clean milk, one of your children fell ill. Sure, we drank it as kids with no ill-effects and the risks are low but they are there and it is illegal.

Even after pasteurisation, milk is one of nature’s superfoods. Drink it, enjoy it and let your children thrive on it.

By the way, for a good discussion of the raw milk cheese debate, check out the Food Sage blog.

11 thoughts on “About raw milk products

  1. None of my milk or cheese, as a home producer is pasteurized. I find it hard to drink processed milk when at a mates place now, it seems a bit thin and washed out.

    My attitude to raw milk in the general public and in particular in use for cheese is this – every year we let millions of people smoke, something that without any shadow of a doubt will kill you, yet we won’t allow, even under heavy regulation something that is quite common in many parts of the world.

    I very much doubt that cheese makers, whose livelihood depends on producing safe food, would ever take risks that would make people sick.

    • I think the “thinness” of your mates’ milk might be due to the fat content, Beeso. Even so-called “full fat” milk is 96% fat-free, after all (don’t get me started!). Our cows often produce milk with a higher fat content than that and your Dexter would too!

      There’s always a risk in eating or drinking anything, of course because nothing is guaranteed free from contamination. Australia has among the toughest dairy regs in the world but, then, we also have among the lowest incidence of dairy-related illnesses too! I guess it’s all about striking the balance between safety and choice – very subjective.

  2. Interesting isnt it – we have been approached by several people who wish to purchase our milk, and i say the same thing ” im sorry, we cannot, its illegal ” – and i out line the risks..
    How ever – when people have purchased calves off us, we will sell colostrum rich milk to them – *shudders at the thought of anyone drinking that!*

    In saying that – we drink our own fresh milk daily.. If anyone comes around for a cup of tea – i always forewarn them that it is fresh cows milk, and they are welcome to some Devondale UHT we keep in the cupboard for visitors.

  3. At the end of the day, those that want to drink raw milk should go and buy some land, a couple of cows and DIY. They might then appreciate the hard work that goes into producing the milk that they currently regard as unworthy of their consumption. They do the work, and can take a calculated risk knowing how they manage food safety.

    • Well that makes me feel so much better about getting up at 430am so i can milk my cow. Smart arse remarks like that are why farmers are generally misunderstood. Not only do I milk my own cows and make my own cheese, I make sure every person who comes to my farm gets to see what its like, to have a greater understanding of what is required to get the milk that they drink. I manage my food safety very well and the reason that we have these rules in place was not smallholders at home getting sick, but rather practices that came about in the mass transfer of product from farm to wholesaler to shop to consumer.

      Like i said before, statistically you are much, much more likely to get health problems from smoking or even eating hungry jacks every second day than drinking raw milk that is handled properly.

      • Sorry if I offended you Beeso, I was actually trying to highlight that dairy farmers DO work hard and that many people who criticize the quality of the product (processed or otherwise) probably do not understand that it isn’t an easy job to produce it.

        I work with farmers and fully appreciate what they do. Anyone who feels that they can do a better job should try and have a crack at it themselves, either by DIY or going to work on a farm! Too many people do not fully understand how their food is produced and this disconnect causes everyone a lot of heartache.
        Good on you for having the guts to do what you are passionate about. Not many others would 🙂

  4. I visited a friend in Bellingen a while back, when the ‘milk man’ visited.
    He delivered their unpasteurised milk in two recycled, large, orange juice bottles. Friend asked the milk man to ‘put it on the tab’. I was severely impressed by the rusticity – and audacity – of the transaction!!
    Thanks for linking to my blog post.

  5. In Western Queensland about 20 years ago we worked on a dairy that had a licence for unprocessed milk, so we milked the cows and bottled the milk, then delivered it door to door, and in milk cans to the cafes and the old people’s home. There was always a lot of cream on top and it was a great job, people really appreciated the freshness. Also, when the wet season came and no-one could get milk supplies, we were the only milk supplier and the SES used to fly to the dairy and pick up the milk in a helicopter.

  6. Reblogged this on The Milk Maid Marian and commented:

    A little boy the same age as our own Alex is dead after drinking raw milk sold as “bath milk”. I’ve reposted this piece about raw milk as some background. Please, don’t mess with raw milk. Do what we do on our dairy farm and make sure you only drink pasteurised milk.

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