NACCHO last week hosted “Raw Milk and the Public’s Health: Stories from State and Local Health Departments,” a new webinar that examines health department experiences responding to outbreaks associated with raw milk and working with communities impacted by outbreaks, as well as legislating its consumption. This webinar is now archived and available for viewing through NACCHO’s website.
Raw milk safety and regulations are increasingly of interest to public health and food safety professionals. A number of state and local health officials participated in the webinar to describe out raw milk has affected their communities. Lane Drager from the Boulder County Health Department in Colorado provided a detailed overview of a raw milk outbreak investigation that took place in 2010; he also discussed the costs associated with the outbreak and the reasons why some people choose raw milk. Suzanne Wilson with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau of Public Health provided background on the raw milk laws in West Virginia and described recent outbreaks linked to a dairy farm in a bordering state. Kimberly Kline, from West Virginia Public Health District 3, described a 2012 Campylobacter outbreak associated with raw milk and relayed interviews with families who drank raw milk during the outbreak. Finally, Eric Bradley of the Scott County Health Department in Iowa provided an overview of Iowa’s raw milk laws and outbreak data. He also emphasized the importance of coalition building when trying to combat raw milk laws, and provided tips for legislative success.
The webinar drew nearly 100 participants from all over the country, representing all different sectors of public health. Participants approached the webinar largely as a sharing opportunity to discuss the health consequences of drinking raw milk; some even described the stories told as “heart-wrenching,” and were particularly affected by people who experienced negative health effects.
Though the large majority of milk sold in the United States in pasteurized, public health officials need to be aware of raw milk consumption in their own communities. Some of the reasons raw milk proponents cite for drinking include: health, a better taste, a creamier texture, a boost to the immune system, and better for allergies. However, it’s important that public health officials know the outbreaks caused by contaminated raw milk can lead to life-threatening conditions, particularly in children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
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