The pasteurisation of milk has been around since early 1900s and became standard practice in Australia in the mid-1950s. Pasteurisation is a process that heats milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time, killing bacteria responsible for diseases. It is a valuable public health tool.
During a proposal that looked at allowing the production of a greater range of raw milk cheeses, FSANZ assessed the risks associated with raw drinking milk.
FSANZ concluded that the risks from raw milk were too great to consider changing or removing processing requirements in the Food Standards Code that require that milk is pasteurised (or equivalently processed) to eliminate disease-causing bacteria that may be present.
What are the hazards associated with raw milk?
A wide variety of organisms that can cause illness can be found in raw milk. These include bacteria such as Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, pathogenic Escherichia coli (e.g. E. coli O157) and parasites such as Cryptosporidium.
The complications from infection with these organisms can be extremely severe, such as renal failure, paralysis or even 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.
For raw drinking milk, even extremely good hygiene procedures won’t ensure dangerous pathogens aren’t present.
Have there been outbreaks due to raw milk?
Yes. There have been outbreaks in Australia and the FSANZ assessment report identified many outbreaks in North America and Europe associated with raw milk and these continue to occur.