Health Canada has issued a sternly worded warning against drinking raw milk because it could contain bacteria that can make you seriously ill.
It has issued advisories about raw milk in the past.
This isn t the first statement from the department about the dangers of raw milk. As usual when it releases food safety messages, it didn t connect the warning to any particular event. There have been several cases across Canada this year of illnesses caused by drinking unpasteurized milk.
The department clearly hasn t been convinced by raw milk advocates in Ontario and British Columbia about the alleged safety of their products. While pasteurized milk is now the standard, there are some Canadians who continue to prefer raw milk because of perceived health benefits. However, any possible benefits are far outweighed by the serious risk of illness from drinking raw milk.
Raw milk has historically been linked to many serious diseases, the department said. In addition, several different kinds of bacteria that could be found in raw milk, such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria, have been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks.
These bacteria can lead to very serious health conditions ranging from fever, vomiting and diarrhea to life-threatening kidney failure, miscarriage and death. Children, pregnant women, older adults and people with a weakened immune system are particularly at risk, it added.
Because of these health concerns, the Food and Drug Regulations require that all milk available for sale in Canada be pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the organisms that may cause disease while keeping the nutritional properties of milk intact. Raw milk has not been treated to make it safe. It also is not fortified with vitamin D.
The department says pasteurized milk is an important food and contains many nutrients essential for good health, including protein, calcium and added vitamin D. Moreover, the number of foodborne illness outbreaks from milk has dramatically decreased since pasteurization was made mandatory by Health Canada in 1991.
The sale of raw milk is strictly prohibited under the Food and Drug Regulations. Raw milk cheese is allowed for sale and considered safe because the manufacturing process for cheese helps to eliminate many pathogens that may be found in raw milk.
Although raw milk is not allowed to be sold in Canada, people have become ill after drinking raw milk when visiting farms.