The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study in February that the agency publicized with the headline, “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk.” It’s not surprising, but still disappointing, to see how the agency was willing to ignore the real facts and data in order to try to discourage people from drinking raw milk.
To put it simply, there are very few illnesses attributed to any kind of dairy product each year. For the 14-year period that the CDC examined, there was an average of 315 illnesses a year from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known. Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to raw dairy products.
To put those numbers in context, there are approximately 24,000 cases of foodborne illness reported to the CDC each year, of which raw dairy products account for one-half of one percent (0.5%). When placed in the context of the number of people who drink raw milk (based on the CDC’s own data), the numbers are even more reassuring. Out of the approximately 9.4 million people in this country who drink raw milk, only 0.001% of them allegedly get ill from raw dairy each year.
Notice that the majority of the illnesses (203) were linked to pasteurized dairy products. Yet the headline states that the majority of outbreaks were linked to raw milk. Remember that an outbreak could be thousands of people seriously ill, or just two people with minor stomach aches, or anything in between. The rate of outbreaks is of little significance if one is concerned about the risk to people’s health. This is particularly true in the arena of dairy, since raw milk outbreaks are typically small (most involve fewer than 20 people), while there have been fewer, but often much larger, outbreaks related to pasteurized milk. The real question is the rate of illnesses, not outbreaks.