Part I of a Series
By Susie McKinley
As a restaurant owner, manager or person-in-charge, it is an obligation of business to serve safe food to customers. Awareness of and adherence to food safety requirements is the responsibility of all food service management and employees. Why then offer foods that have a long-time association with foodborne illness?
Many foods provide an excellent environment for the growth or transmission of foodborne illness. Most of these foods, with correct time and temperature control, correct handling, cooking, cooling and reheating methods, can be safely served to patrons. Still, there are those foods that don’t stand up to food safety even after correct handling, cooking and service. Raw milk and raw milk products come to mind as a food that has an inherent problem in remaining free from bacterial growth even after correct handling.
Raw milk and raw milk products are part of a developing trend in the United States. Consumers want to drink raw milk and eat raw milk products. It seems as though the raw milk movement is a sort of “rebellion” against governmental oversight and control of food products. It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind this “rebellion”, as unpasteurized milk can pose a serious and significant health risk. Pasteurization has been used for more than 100 years as an effective tool against pathogenic contamination. It is hard to understand why consumers would want to move away from a proven preventive method such as pasteurization.
According to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, prior to widespread use of pasteurization, raw milk and raw milk products were the vehicles for serious illnesses such as “… typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis….” According to the University of Florida’s, Dr. Ronald H. Schmidt, Professor Emeritus, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, “Today’s raw milk has new risks, and has been associated with several very serious pathogens (e.g. E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella). Moreover, these new pathogens are especially dangerous for high risk populations (children, elderly, pregnant women, immune-compromised). E. coli, for example, causes serious kidney damage in children.”
Pasteurization, which is essentially heating milk to a high temperature for a specific period of time, does not change the nutritional value of milk or cause “…lactose intolerance and allergic reactions….”
Dr. Schmidt also notes that “…there are several myths perpetrated by the proponents of drinking raw milk.
These are as follows:
- Two Raw Milks. They suggest that raw milk produced for direct human consumption is somehow safer than raw milk destined for pasteurization. The reasons given are that the former is produced on clean farms where cows are gently cared for, while the latter is produced on large “factory farms.” This gives the raw milk drinker a false sense of security, as pathogens are found in both types of raw milk and one is no safer than the other.
- Raw Milk and Beneficial (Probiotic) Bacteria. Raw milk proponents suggest that the raw milk produced for direct consumption, especially if produced from grass fed cows, has high levels of beneficial (or probiotic) bacteria (similar to those found in certain yogurt products and other amended dairy products). Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. In fact, the better job you do in sanitation and refrigeration, the more you select against these beneficial bacteria which do not survive well and do not grow in refrigerated milk. Further, some of the pathogens associated with raw milk outbreaks (especially Listeria) do grow under refrigeration. To be beneficial, a consumer must consume a large quantity of these probiotic bacteria (at least a million organisms). Certainly, raw milk would not provide this level of protection. A safer way to obtain probiotic microorganisms is to consume yogurt products or milk inoculated with these organisms (A Plus Milk and others), than to rely on random contamination on the farm which is very iffy.
- Raw Milk Contains Naturally Occurring Antimicrobial Agents which Prevent Growth or Destroy Pathogens. While these agents are present, the level and activity are highly variable. Further, these agents need activation to be effective. Several researchers have shown that the activity of raw milk antimicrobial agents can be overcome by many of the pathogens associated with raw milk. Further there is no difference in antimicrobial activity between milk sources (e.g. grass fed vs. feedlot fed, etc.)”
While Florida has been lucky in recent years that it has not had any outbreaks related to these products as of this writing, they occur with great frequency around the country. From raw milk consumed by school children, to queso fresco made with unpasteurized milk in Utah, outbreaks related to food and drink products made with unpasteurized milk occur daily. Florida has, however, had its share of recalls concerning these food items.
As an operator committed to serving safe food, be certain to use pasteurized milk and milk products in all of your menu items. It is easy to check the labels of food to determine if it is pasteurized. If an item is sold with raw milk as an ingredient, it must be labeled as such. For more information about raw milk and raw milk products such as cheese, visit www.realrawmilkfacts.com.
When food safety is in your control, make the correct decisions to utilize every tool available to ensure that the food the operation serves to the public is safe and wholesome.
For more information about food safety or food safety products, contact FRLA’s Education and Training Department at 866-372-7233 or www.FRLA.org.
Serving more than 10,000 members across Florida, FRLA is committed to safe-guarding the needs of the hospitality industry and improving the business climate. Led by Carol Dover, President/CEO, and an active Board of Directors, FRLA has influenced legislation resulting in over $1.2 billion in tax and fee savings over the past decade. To learn more about the FRLA, visit www.frla.org or call 888-372-9119 to find out how you can get involved.
Susie McKinley is the Editor of FR&L Magazine and is a former Director of the Florida Division of Hotels & Restaurants.