Scientific Opinion on the public health risks related to the consumption of raw drinking milk
Raw drinking milk (RDM) has a diverse microbial flora which can include pathogens transmissible to humans. The main microbiological hazards associated with RDM from cows, sheep and goats, horses and donkeys and camels were identified using a decision tree approach. This considered evidence of milk-borne infection and the hazard being present in the European Union (EU), the impact of the hazard on human health and whether there was evidence for RDM as an important risk factor in the EU. The main hazards were Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., shigatoxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Brucella melitensis, Mycobacterium bovis and tick-borne encephalitis virus, and there are clear links between drinking raw milk and human illness associated with these hazards. A quantitative microbiological risk assessment for these hazards could not be undertaken because country and EU-wide data are limited. Antimicrobial resistance has been reported in several EU countries in some of the main bacterial hazards isolated from raw milk or associated equipment and may be significant for public health. Sale of RDM through vending machines is permitted in some EU countries, although consumers purchasing such milk are usually instructed to boil the milk before consumption, which would eliminate microbiological risks. With respect to internet sales of RDM, there is a need for microbiological, temperature and storage time data to assess the impact of this distribution route. Intrinsic contamination of RDM with pathogens can arise from animals with systemic infection as well as from localised infections such as mastitis. Extrinsic contamination can arise from faecal contamination and from the wider farm environment. It was not possible to rank control options as no single step could be identified which would significantly reduce risk relative to a baseline of expected good practice, although potential for an increase in risk was also noted. Improved risk communication to consumers is recommended.