Food & Drink

Michigan officials warn against raw milk amid outbreak of bird flu

Public health officials in Michigan are again warning against drinking unpasteurized, raw milk, this time because of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that has been found in dairy herds.

The virus has been found in dairy cattle in eight states, including Michigan. It has also been detected in wild mammals and birds as well as domestic chicken flocks. Millions of chickens have had to be destroyed because of the outbreak.

Two cases of infection from the virus have been confirmed in people in the United States and patients have been identified in other countries.

The Michigan health officials are reminding the public that pasteurization kills viruses such as HPAI, but it survives in raw milk.

“Now that HPAI is infecting both cows and birds, it’s important to make sure that you are consuming food that is safe, including ensuring that the milk products you eat or drink are pasteurized,” said Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian.

“Anyone can get sick from drinking raw milk, but children under age 5, adults over age 65 and those with weakened immune systems are more at risk for getting sick.” 

Pasteurized milk is extremely safe and has undergone a heating process which kills disease-causing germs like Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella. People who consume raw (or unpasteurized) milk, cheeses and other dairy products like ice cream created from raw milk are at risk for a variety of illnesses. Only pasteurized milk is sold in stores and provided to children in school lunches in Michigan.

People can get ill from the same source and product of raw milk they drank previously – milk that someone consumes from the same farm over a duration of time may not always be safe. Raw milk can become contaminated in many ways. While good safety practices can reduce the chance of germs getting in raw milk, they cannot eliminate risk, according to the Michigan public health agency.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently have concerns about the safety or availability of pasteurized milk products nationwide. Pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza viruses, in milk and is required for any milk entering interstate commerce.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking the following steps to reduce risk:

  • Choose pasteurized milk and dairy products.
  • Refrigerate milk, dairy products and other perishable food at 40 degrees F or colder.
  • Throw away expired food, including milk and dairy products.

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