THE ‘bath milk’ implicated in the death of a Victorian toddler has been recalled today by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Mountain View Farm Organic Bath Milk contains raw, or unpasteurised, milk and is sold in one and two-litre varieties. The sale of unpasteurised cow’s milk for consumption is illegal in Australia, however sales of the product – marketed as being for cosmetic use but often consumed as a seemingly healthy ‘raw food’ option – have been increasing.
Lydia Buchtmann, spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council, said vulnerable people such as pregnant women, people with reduced immune systems, the elderly or young children should not consume raw milk or raw milk cheeses.
"They can get seriously ill if they get food poisoning," she said.
Nearly all dairy products in Australia are pasteurised, which involves heat treatment for a short period to kill any bacteria.
"Pasteurisation has done a great deal to reduce food-borne disease since it was introduced in Australia in the 1940s," Ms Buchtmann said.
While the recalled product carries labelling indicating that it is a cosmetic product and a warning that the product is not suitable for human consumption, ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the marketing could confuse consumers.
“This product is sold in containers that resemble commonly used milk containers,” she said. The ACCC will now consider whether product labels mislead consumers; whether the sellers’ obligation to provide safe goods has been met and whether voluntary or mandatory changes will address health concerns.
Four children under the age of five have fallen ill after drinking contaminated raw milk in the past few weeks, while the death of the three-year-old has been referred to the coroner.
The ACCC is leading a national investigation of consumer law regulators into possible breaches of the Australian Consumer Law by sellers of raw milk when sold as a cosmetic product.
“Mountain View Farm Organic Bath Milk has been linked to a number of recent health concerns in young children after being used as a substitute for regular pasteurised milk,” Ms Rickard said.
“The message from health agencies is clear: do not drink unpasteurised milk.
“If you have this product, do not drink it in any circumstances. Return it to the place of purchase for a full refund,” Ms Rickard said.
Mountain View Farm owner Vicki Jones said she was shocked by news of the toddler's death, but said the dangers of raw milk had been sensationalised by the media.
Ms Jones said she was aware people consumed Mountain View Farm's bath milk, despite the warnings on the label.
"I know people drink it. It is a raw product - I don't know why people drink it, I mean, I guess they feel that that it's healthy," she said.
Dr David Everett, president of the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology, said the recent tragedy was both sad and disturbing, "particularly so when there are people selling this product who are unaware of the risks".
Contamination can arise when the product is packaged, transported and stored, he said, as the conditions during these steps are not always well-controlled and monitored. Spoilage and pathogenic bacteria can be introduced and grow in number during these stages.
"The argument that we have safely consumed raw milk for millennia is a spurious one, as historically milk would have been consumed immediately after milking a cow."