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Pasteurized milk couldn't stop the largest dairy-related outbreak in history

Pasteurized milk couldn't stop the largest dairy-related outbreak in history

224,000 people were estimated to have contracted salmonella from ice cream in September, 1994. These estimated people ingested one or more of 8 ice cream products, made with pasteurized milk, from Schwann’s in Minnesota.

Minnesota ice cream outbreak

Pasteurized milk used to make the contaminated ice cream was transported by truck. The delivery tank contained residue from contaminated raw eggs. This truck was moving raw eggs between Iowa and Nebraska before it was recruited to make this pasteurized milk delivery and had not been adequately cleaned beforehand, leaking rotten eggs into the production line.

Pasteurization did not prevent or cause this salmonella outbreak. Operating a fleet of trucks allows for hyper-efficiency and increased profit, allowing trucks to be swapped around to pivot production and minimize downtime. Problem is, expansive operational architecture also represents the inclusion of many points of failure that are a necessary component of industrialized food systems.

When trucks are traded around for different applications within a large food system, adding complexity and randomness to the production of ice cream in this case, opportunities for contamination are created where they wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Raw milk avoids industrial mishaps

Raw milk is not trucked anywhere before the product is sealed. Raw milk is cooled and bottled on the farm, then sold direct-to-consumer. When a small and distributed food system makes a mistake, the effects are isolated. Contamination can be traced and minimized, through biosecurity procedures, as the equipment used to produce raw milk is generally static and kept within a closed system.

When big food systems make a mistake, more points of failure are added to the production process, and the consequences can affect a massive amount of people. Raw milk and pasteurized milk aren’t just two different beverages, they represent two completely different food systems.

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