Bird flu outbreak: Don't drink that raw milk, no matter what social media tells you

Don't drink raw milk, no matter what social media tells you. Seriously.

In an update on the outbreak of bird flu in the U.S. on Wednesday, federal agencies revealed that recent testing on commercial dairy products detected remnants of the virus in one in five samples. However, none contained the live virus that could sicken people.

Officials also said that testing on contaminated dairy reaffirmed that pasteurization kills the bird flu virus, making it safe to consume.

Despite the assurances, a seemingly growing pocket of influencers and content creators online, particularly TikTok, have taken to boasting about drinking raw milk, touting supposed benefits and sowing seeds of skepticism as to the safety of pasteurization.

While the science-backed practice has been used for over 100 years, some believe it's unnecessary or even harmful. Unfortunately, that could mean anyone who takes their advice could be playing with fire, especially if the raw product is consumed by children, the elderly, a pregnant person, or someone with a compromised immune system.

Here's what to know about pasteurization and what it does to the products we consume:

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What is pasteurization and why is it important?

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill harmful germs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The process of pasteurization became routine in the commercial milk supply in the U.S. in the 1920s and was widespread by the 1950s. As a result, illnesses commonly spread via milk became less prevalent.

While misinformation about the process has led some to believe that pasteurized milk is less nutritious or better for people with lactose intolerance, pasteurization does not significantly compromise the nutritional value or content of milk. In some states, selling raw milk directly to a consumer is illegal.

What can happen if you consume raw dairy?

Raw milk can carry a host of harmful bacteria, including:

◾ Salmonella

◾ E. coli

◾ Listeria monocytogenes

◾ Campylobacter

◾ Coxiella burnetii

◾ Cryptosporidium

◾ Yersinia enterocolitica

◾ Staphylococcus aureus

◾ Other foodborne illness-causing bacteria

People with compromised immune systems, pregnant people and other at-risk people should avoid cheeses made with unpasteurized milk as well.
People with compromised immune systems, pregnant people and other at-risk people should avoid cheeses made with unpasteurized milk as well.

The presence of these can cause a variety of health issues and ailments, including:

◾ Listeriosis

◾ Typhoid fever

◾ Tuberculosis

◾ Diphtheria

◾ Q fever


◾ Food poisoning

◾ Miscarriage

◾ Guillain-Barre syndrome

◾ Hemolytic uremic syndrome

◾ Reactive arthritis

◾ Chronic inflammatory conditions

◾ Death

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Why are some social media users pushing unpasteurized milk and dairy?

Fringe ideas of health, wellness and nutrition have become easily widespread and somewhat popular with social media.

On TikTok, many homesteading, "tradwife," "all-natural" and other self-proclaimed wellness influencers push the idea of raw milk, presenting the idea that less intervention of any kind in their food is better.

Some also claim that they have been drinking it for years without illness, that they believe drinking it has cured their lactose intolerance and other health conditions, or that the raw milk contains vital nutrients and ingredients that are done away with by pasteurization.

Others simply say they see it as a means of subverting what they see as undue government regulation on their food and drink.

Even big names like Gwyneth Paltrow, who has been criticized for her comments on nutrition in the past, have promoted the idea of drinking raw milk.

Why? Some people may just be misinformed, convinced by anecdotal evidence, or even think they are helping others. Some cite an overall distrust of government regulations involving food, while others have products they hope to sell after disseminating misinformation, plugging them at the end of their videos or in their bios.

As it stands, consuming unpasteurized milk and dairy can easily lead to many of the illnesses already listed. The spread of bird flu is certainly not the only reason to ensure you are drinking properly treated milk, but it is yet another thing to be aware of when it comes to making decisions about food safety.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bird flu outbreak: Don't drink raw milk, no matter what social media says