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Raw milk outbreak sickens 14 in Utah—a state with loose laws, bad track record

A hand holding a glass of milk.

At least 14 people in Utah have been sickened with a serious gastrointestinal infection after drinking “raw,” unpasteurized milk, the Salt Lake County Health Department reported this week.

Raw milk outbreaks are not uncommon in Utah, which has some of the more permissive laws regarding the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk in the country—and an unenviable record of outbreaks. Retail sales of raw milk are legal in Utah and, in 2015, the state passed a law expressly allowing herd-share programs. In these programs people pay for a share of an animal or herd and are thereby entitled to a portion of the unpasteurized milk produced.

In a 2022 study, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Utah had the largest number of single-state raw milk outbreaks of any other state between 2012 and 2019. In that timeframe, Utah saw 14 outbreaks. The next-closest state was Pennsylvania, with nine outbreaks.

The study noted that the number of outbreaks between 2012 and 2015 was five, while between 2015 and 2019—after herd shares were legalized—there were nine outbreaks.

Generally, the study linked permissive laws, like those in Utah, to more outbreaks. Compared with states that bar the retail sale of raw milk, those that allow it have three times as many outbreaks, the study found. Still, more than two dozen states have legalized the sale of raw milk.

In Utah’s latest outbreak, people were sickened with the bacterium Campylobacter, just one of the pathogens that can contaminate unpasteurized raw milk. The rest of the list includes Cryptosporidium, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica.

By the health department’s count, the state has seen 25 outbreaks from raw milk just from Campylobacter alone since 2009. The outbreaks sickened a total of 295 people.

Campylobacter infection symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, which can last for up to a week. The infection can turn severe for young children, pregnant people, older people, and those with compromised immune systems.

The 14 people sickened in the current outbreak range in age from 2 to 73, the Salt Lake County Health Department reported. One person was hospitalized but is now recovering at home. Ten of the people sickened were from Salt Lake County, which houses three licensed retail milk sellers. The other four people were from around the state. All but two of the 14 confirmed they had consumed raw milk.

The health department advised anyone who consumes raw milk or raw milk products to heat them to 165° F for at least 15 seconds before consuming them.

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