Her warning has been prompted by five cases of gastroenteritis illness in children who had drunk unpasteurised milk.
“There have been three cases of Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) and two cases of cryptosporidiosis.
“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.
“Only a small number of these pathogens are needed to cause illness. The sale of unpasteurised milk for human consumption is illegal in Victoria,” Dr Lester said.
“However all five cases drank unpasteurised milk which was sold as ‘bath’ or ‘cosmetic’ milk.
“Unpasteurised milk is labelled and sold for cosmetic use only, but the packaging is often very similar to other milk products.
“Unpasteurised milk increases the risk of contracting gastrointestinal illness because it can contain pathogens such as Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, shiga toxin-producing E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes.
“Since the 1940s it has been compulsory to pasteurise cow’s milk in Australia. Milk is heated for a very short period of time effectively destroying any disease-causing bacteria which may be present in raw milk.
“Everyone is vulnerable to illness caused by the pathogens present in raw milk, but the risks are even greater for young children and for the elderly, those with underlying health problems, immunocompromised or pregnant,” Dr Lester said.
No matter what precautions are taken by dairy farmers during milking, there can be no guarantee that the milk will be free from harmful bacteria, making pasteurisation essential.