Now FDA Takes Up Listeria Danger in Various Foods, Including Raw Milk–What Will New “Per Serving” Data Show?

I’ve been trying to get back in the swing of things after being away for a month–recovering from jet lag, unpacking,  going through mail, paying overlooked bills, re-stocking the fridge and all that sort of thing. I haven’t felt like doing anything that required a lot of concentration, but then Henwhisperer, a blog reader, sent me a very intriguing document from your friends and mine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and unfortunately, it requires serious concentration to understand, maybe because it’s a government document, written in bureaucratese.

But I think it’s important enough to expend the effort, and to post here, so others can provide interpretation and insight…and perhaps even provide input sought by the FDA. 

Essentially, the document, just issued last week, is a “request for comments” from the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Services, “requesting comments and scientific data and information that would assist the agencies in their plan to update a risk assessment on the relationship between foodborne Listeria monocytogenes in selected categories of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods and human health.”

Lo and behold, one of the 23 “RTE foods,” in addition to deli meats, sea food, ice cream, pasteurized milk, and veggies…is raw milk. Another is soft cheeses–not specified whether raw or pasteurized milk cheeses.

According to the document, “The purpose of the risk assessment is to incorporate newly available scientific data and information into the risk assessment in order to update estimates of the relative risk of illness and death associated with the consumption of different types of RTE foods that may be contaminated with L. monocytogenes…”

All this is highly relevant to producers and consumers of raw dairy, since L. monocytogenes has been a highly contentious issue in a number of regulatory and legal cases. In New York state, at least half a dozen raw dairies have been temporarily shut down at different times over the last five years because listeria has been found in their milk, yet there have been no illnesses. One farmer, Chuck Phippen, has been shut down at least eight times for the presence of listeria, and has filed suit against the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets over the matter.

In Missouri and Washington, it was findings of listeria, once again without any illnesses, that have led to the shuttering of two raw cheese producers. The Missouri case, involving Morningland Dairy, wound up in court, where a judge accepted the state’s argument that the presence of listeria constituted a serious enough danger to warrant destroying $250,000 worth of inventory.

It’s impossible to know how much these cases might have inspired the FDA to re-examine its approach to listeria cases. But the request for comments touches on a number of issues raised in the New York and Missouri raw milk and raw cheese cases. For example, FDA says it seeks data on “The number of L. monocytogenes cells present per amount (unit volume or weight) of contaminated RTE food.” It also proposes to consider “The relationship between the dose of L. monocytogenes ingested with food and the frequency of listeriosis…”

In both the New York and Missouri cases, a big part of the argument in opposition to the regulators has been that the simple presence of L. monocytogenes isn’t necessarily a public health danger. This matter has been raised by scientists within the FDA and at other institutions, but the agency hasn’t seen fit to take the concerns seriously, until now…maybe.

One other intriguing aspect of the FDA’s upcoming re-evaluation of L. monocytongenes is that the agency is considering adjusting findings it came up with in 2003 on the same subject. In that assessment, the FDA ranked a number of foods in terms of the danger posed by L. monocytogenes.

Here’s where the whole matter becomes more complicated than I would have liked, especially while dealing with jet lag. What did the FDA find in its original report on L. monocytogenes? Turns out that “unpasteurized fluid milk” was labeled “high risk” on a “per serving basis,” along with hot dogs, deli meats, and smoked seafood. Interestingly, pasteurized milk was labeled “high risk” on a “per annum basis” (with deli meats considered “very high risk” on that basis).

But how, I wondered, did the FDA arrive at any kind of “per serving” assessment of raw milk? After all, it pretends that raw milk shouldn’t be consumed under any circumstances. How would it have any indication of how many servings of raw milk are made each day, or week, or year? 

So I went deep into the 2003 report, where food number 14 is the “Unpasteurized fluid milk food category”. And there, it states, “Unpasteurized Fluid Milk consumption was estimated to be 0.5% of total milk…”

Now mind you, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has done surveys indicating that as much as three per cent of milk consumption could be raw milk. Even if the actual number is two per cent, or even one per cent, it’s two times, or four times, or even possibly six times the figure the FDA was using in 2003. Might the FDA be making its estimate low enough to ensure the denominator of its “per serving” assessment is low enough that raw milk will come out as high risk.

What percentage will the FDA use in this new updated assessment? That should be just one of a few interesting results to come out of the upcoming study.

In the meantime, I guess I can credit the FDA for helping lift the fog of my jet lag. And I would encourage anyone with insights and data to answer the FDA’s request for comments. The deadline is July 6. ?

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15 Comments on "Now FDA Takes Up Listeria Danger in Various Foods, Including Raw Milk–What Will New “Per Serving” Data Show?"

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Mark McAfee
April 15, 2011 11:03 am

Welcome home. This post really does plant some seeds for thought. In CA all raw milk must be zero for listeria m. If the FDA allows some level of tolerance, that would be very interesting since bacteria levels grow with time. So numbers would be critical verses time and temperature. In other words the FDA would need a protocol for testing that is a complete departure from zero detect

Great to have you back.


Mark McAfee
April 15, 2011 11:28 am

Hold the presses.

Look at the 2003 FDA data again. In the raw milk category the FDA uses pasteurized milk data as a default reference. This is sloppy science. Also the graph is missing on raw milk??? What is going on here. Something is fishy and I think the FDA is doing some quick and dirty with the numbers. We all know that the CDC and NIH have an agenda and it obvious right here. Can some super smart scientist please explain this to me.


Bill Anderson
April 15, 2011 4:53 pm

It all depends, Mark.

Lactococcus Lactics (the most common bacteria in cheese) produces nisin that kills listeria. Listeria, if present in milk (raw or pasteurized) rarely survives the cheese making process. Most often, it is post-production contaminant, once the cheese cultures start to die off.

Listeria has a competative advantage at cold temperatures.

The Complete Patient
April 15, 2011 10:13 pm

The problem you see with the numbers and graphs is a great example of the problems that inevitably occur when you mix politics and science. The FDA has politicized raw milk as a safety issue, and in the process sought to avoid capturing data about its use as a food. So in the 2003 assessment, the FDA scientists essentially made up a number–0.5% of total pasteurized milk production. It was intentionally low so raw milk would come out looking bad on a per-serving basis. In the meantime, the CDC came up with survey data in a dozen states suggesting raw milk consumption was considerably higher than 0.5%. There is reason to suspect that data as well, since it may be weighted toward farm workers, who are heavy drinkers of raw milk. But now the FDA has a problem of its own making:what the hell does it for a "denominator" in itsper-serving assessment process, which will now be under greater public scrutiny than its first go-round,

Lesson: politics and science don't mix well.


Mary Falk
April 15, 2011 11:44 pm

"Look at the 2003 FDA data again. In the raw milk category the FDA uses pasteurized milk data as a default reference. This is sloppy science…Can some super smart scientist please explain this to me. ?".

Mark, Dr. Catherinne Donelly would be the one to ask about this.

Mark McAfee
April 16, 2011 12:05 am

Who can hold the FDA's feet to the Fire on this? They get away with numberical and statistical murder here.

We need a scientist to really evaluate this study and the assumptions. On the face of it….it does not jive. I agree with David on this. There are lies and there are damn lies. They are forcing the numbers to tell the expedient political message.

When will the FDA study real raw milk….like in CA and in Pennsylvania (and other places ). Where it is intended expressly for human consumption, it is tested and inspected and regulated with clear standards. That is the only raw milk that should be in these numbers. The FDA cheats when they combine data from filthy PMO CAFO raw milk and PMO permitted dirty raw milk cheeses made from the cheapest dirtiest, thermalized milk that a processor can find ( that is what PMO permitted thermalized fake raw milk cheeses are mostly made of ).

Dirty numbers with a filthy greedy protectionist agenda.

Does the truth matter? Only to the moms…and their kids. John Sheehan…shame on you, you are in deep political denial. Got Milk? Milk Mustache and Mooootopia commercials do not change the truth.

There are "Two Raw Milks in America".


April 16, 2011 2:06 am

FDA's hypocrisy is astounding…

Meat Contaminated With Resistant Bacteria:
"Antibiotics are routinely given to livestock to promote growth and prevent disease in crowded pens. Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration urged the meat industry to cut back on antibiotics use over concerns that the bacterial resistance bred in stockyards makes antibiotics less effective in humans.

"About 11,000 people die every year from S. aureus infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than half of those deaths are from the hospital superbug methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA).",0,7997782.story

Ken Conrad
April 16, 2011 5:43 am


Lets not forget FDA approved ARM (antibiotic resistance maker) genes incorporated into virtually all GMO products.

Upjohns recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbSt), contains an ampicillin resistant marker gene in its plasmid variety BST-1 and a tetracycline resistant marker gene in its plasmidless variety BST-1C. (Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, Volume 11, Number 4).

From the above article Dr. Sue Mayer states, In 1996, the UK Government voted against the approval of another Syngenta GM maize variety, Bt176, because of the risk to human health associated with the ampicillin resistance gene it contained In this respect, it is important to realise that the ampicillin resistance gene in Bt10 maize, ampr, does not give resistance to ampicillin alone, but also to some other members of a group of antibiotics known as the beta-lactams or broad spectrum penicllins, including: benzyl penicillin, ampicillin, amoxycillin, phenethicillin, carbenicillin, methicilin, flucloxicillin and cloxacillin.

Professor Cummins states in the ISIS article above that soil inoculants, has the antibiotic resistant marker genes for streptomycin and spectinomycin, and that the commercial release of this GM bacterium, has resulted in the establishment of GM microbes in the soil of millions of acres of cropland, where it can spread antibiotic resistant genes for antibiotics that are extensively used in medicine and agriculture.

In reference to several studies he further states there is little doubt that the antibiotic resistant markers above will be transferred to soil bacteria and to a range of animal pathogens. He also states that these organisms have, persisted in the soil for six years even in the absence of legume hosts.

Ken Conrad

Mark McAfee
April 16, 2011 5:57 am

We need more people that have the FDA resistance gene.

April 16, 2011 8:39 am

Is antibiotic resistance really a problem or is it an opportunity that will help us to realize a new way of thinking about what is called "disease"?

Permaculture is not a method of farming,it is a way of thinking.Why do we call the byproducts of some organisms toxins?In permaculture every "waste" product is a resource for some other organism.Rather than label an organism a pathogen because it produces a "toxin",the solution is to add an organism that sees this "toxin" as a resource.Often we have created "pathogens" by eliminating the organisms that are consuming the "pathogen's'" waste products.Biodiversity should be encouraged,no matter that the organism added to the system is thought to be detrimental.The solution is still more biodiversity,not less.

"This Too Will Pass"

"Visualize this difference by picturing a straight line (i.e., linear thinking) whose midpoint just touches a circle (i.e., the turning of natural cycles). This tangential line shows direction of travel of the circle at the point of contact but ignores the actual nature of the circle, which is constantly changing directionnever a straight line."

"Life and its cycles can never be truly described as any part of a straight line. The circle's true nature is that 'This too will pass.' Life is an unavoidable mix of ease and difficulty, joy and sadnessthe one always turning into the other."

"If we learn to embrace the Circle, we see there is sadness and joy in each moment. This is the deeper lesson of the Yin/Yang symbolnot alternating good-and-bad, but the eternal, simultaneous 'Both.'

Mary S
April 16, 2011 6:05 pm

Somewhat off topic –

Looking for clinical trials for formal therapies with raw milk –
Advanced cancer patient looking to volunteer for early type milk cures from the previous century. Would travel outside of US if needed.

Ingvar Odegaard
April 16, 2011 8:06 pm

FYI, dated Tuesday, April 12, 2011,

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) became law in January, but its actual impact depends largely on how it is implemented, which is a function of both the funding and the agencys rules.

The first step, funding, is in progress.

The above is from:

Agriculture Appropriations Committee consists of eleven members. They are: Robert Aderholt (R), AL-4; Sam Farr (D), Cal-17; Rosa DeLauro (D), CT-3; Jack Kingston (R), GA-1; Tom Graves (R), GA-9; Sanford Bishop (D), GA-2; Tom Latham (R), IA-4; Alan Nunnelee (R), MI-1; Jo Ann Emerson (R), MO-8; Marcy Kaptur (D), OH-9; Cynthia Lummis (R), WY- At-large.

Gordon Watson
April 17, 2011 4:20 am

Mary S
I suggest you check out the work of Dr Johanna Budgwig, starting with the website < >
like the story of Namaan, in the Bible … it's too simple / too cheap for the over-educated idiots who run the cancer racket. Meanwhile, her general theory about processed oils + fats, explains why the Budwig Protocol has the best success rate of ANY way of dealing with cancer

Mark McAfee
April 17, 2011 4:20 am


From the Republican head count on this committee, it would appear that the food safety initiative is about to die from lack of funding. Just a guess. The republicans do not appear to like either Obamacare or the FDA food safety power grab.

We will see. No funding…. no activity. But perhaps they will retain the authorities for use when ever they want. Not sure about that part.


Steve Bemis
April 18, 2011 8:46 am

Another resource, dietary based, for cancer is in the practice of Nicholas Gonzalez, MD, who practices in NYC:

Gonzalez draws on the work of John Beard, MD from 100 years ago using pancreatic enzymes combined with the dietary insights based on the work of Pottenger (not the cats guy, but his father) who refined dietary principles. Gonzalez is conventionally trained at Brown and Cornell Med School, and was mentored by Robert Good, during and after Good's tenure as President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, in an exhaustive study of the work of Dr. William Donald Kelley who utilized pancreatic enzymes and diet, achieving 80+% cure rates in all types of cancer, including pancreatic (Kelley cured himself of pancreatic cancer, biopsy confirmed, with over 25 year survival, as he developed these principles). Gonzalez' study of Kelley was persuasive enough to obtain an NIH grant to apply Kelley's principles, which Gonzalez continues in his NYC practice, also claiming over 80% cure rates. The science is too much to go into here, but is persuasive, never mind the claimed cure rates.