Raw milk warning after peninsula toddler death

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THE death of a Mornington Peninsula child after drinking raw cow’s milk has prompted Frankston and Mornington Peninsula health officers to visit retailers suspected of selling the product.

Frankston CEO Dennis Hovenden said Environmental Health team officers had attended 10 premises last week. They ranged from health food shops to specialist delis and grocers in Frankston, Karingal and Seaford.

“None of the premises inspected had any brand of bath milk available for sale,” he said.

“One retailer had previously sold this type of product, but confirmed it would not be sold in future due to the inherent health risk.”

Mornington Peninsula Shire’s environmental health team leader Mark Upton said his officers would remind retailers of the importance of informing customers that products – such as bath milk – are not for human consumption.

The toddler, 3, died in the past month after drinking Mountain View Organic Bath Milk. The case has been forwarded to the State Coroner.

Another four children aged one to four, also from the Mornington Peninsula and the south-eastern suburbs, reportedly recovered from serious illness after drinking unpasteurised milk.

Mountain View Organic Dairy proprietor Vicki Jones told 3AW the milk cartons – labelled bath milk – were clearly marked as cosmetic-use only and ‘not-for-human-consumption’. She said local retailers were expected to inform customers of the dangers of drinking it and to advise them of its use only as a skin-care product.

However, the cartons appear similar to regular milk and are often sold in fridges next to drinking milk.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Rosemary Lester warns we are all vulnerable to illness caused by the pathogens present in raw milk. “The risks are even greater for young children and for the elderly, those with underlying health problems, immunocompromised or pregnant,” she said.

As a result, the sale of unpasteurised milk for human consumption is illegal in Victoria.

Ms Lester said there had been five cases of gastroenteritis illness in children who have drunk unpasteurised milk: three cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and two of cryptosporidiosis.

All five cases involved people drinking unpasteurised milk which had been sold as ‘bath’ or ‘cosmetic’ milk.

“HUS is a rare but serious condition caused by bacteria that affects the kidneys and the bloodstream. Cryptosporidiosis is a parasitic infection that commonly presents as gastroenteritis with watery diarrhoea,” she said.

“Unpasteurised milk is labelled and sold for cosmetic use only, but the packaging is often very similar to other milk products.

“Only a small number of these pathogens are needed to cause illness.”

Since the 1940s it has been compulsory to pasteurise cow’s milk. Milk is heated for a short time to destroy disease-causing bacteria.

No matter what precautions are taken by dairy farmers during milking, experts say there can be “no guarantee” that the milk will be free of harmful bacteria, making pasteurisation essential.

Ms Lester said if the milk was labelled as food she would ban it.

Mr Upton said retailers should see the factsheet at betterhealth.vic.gov.au

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