A Scientific Opinion delivered by the EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) highlighted the "clear link" between the consumption of unpasteurised milk and a long list of illnesses with "potential severe health consequences in some individual patients."
The BIOHAZ Panel was tasked by EFSA with identifying the main microbiological hazards associated with raw drinking milk (RDM) from cows, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and camels.
Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Brucella melitensis, Mycobacterium bovis, and tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) were identified by the BIOHAZ Panel as the "main hazards."
A total of 27 outbreaks involving RDM were reported in the EU between 2007 and 2012, with cow's milk accounting for 23 and goat's milk the remaining four. Of these, 21 were attributed to Campylobacter, one to Salmonella Typhimurium, two to STEC, and three to TBEV.
Based on its findings, detailed in a 95-page document published yesterday, the BIOHAZ Panel recommended "improved risk communication to consumers."
"There is a need for improved risk communication to consumers, particularly susceptible/high risk populations, regarding the hazards and controls methods associated with consumption of RDM," it said.
The sale of RDM for human consumption is permitted in the European Union (EU), but Member States may establish national rules to prohibit or restrict the marketing of the unpasteurised product.
Some EU Member States, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and England, Wales and Northern Ireland allow restricted sales to consumers.
Sales of RDM, largely from cows, is also permitted through vending machines in some EU Member States, including Italy, Slovakia, Austria, France, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania.
As well as identifying the main microbiological hazards and public health risk arising from RDM consumption, the BIOHAZ Panel was tasked with assessing the additional risks associated with the sale of RDM thorough vending machines and via the internet.
It concluded that "temperature variability" between throughout the supply chain could result in "multiplication" of certain pathogens.
"The temperature of RDM in vending machines is generally kept below 4C and therefore variability in milk temperature is more likely to arise between the farm and vending machine and the vending machine and point of consumption by the consumer," it said.
While acknowledging there is "no data on the microbiological or temperature controls" for raw milk sold online, the BIOHAZ Panel said "temperature must be controlled and correctly maintain during all steps from the farm to the consumer."
Risks outweigh benefits
On the back of the Scientific Opinion, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has reiterated its “long-standing recommendation to consumers not to drink raw milk given the potential risks involved.”
“We are concerned about the food safety risks involved and particularly the health of infants, children, older adults, pregnant women and those with low immunity. Studies show these groups of people are the most likely to get ill from drinking raw milk and to suffer the most severe symptoms,” said Professor Alan Reilly, CEO, FSAI.
“There is no justification for advocating consumption of raw milk as a method of improving our immune systems. The risks far outweigh any perceived benefits," Reilly added.
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