For a variety of reasons, moms who want to breastfeed must rely on donor milk. However, a new study has raised safety concerns. The majority of breast milk available via a popular US milk-sharing website was found to be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses. The study was published online on October 21 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at Children’s Hospital (Columbus, Ohio), Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio), and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (Cincinnati, Ohio).
A number of websites and social-networking groups help mothers who have breast milk to sell or donate connect with those seeking supplies. Typically, the suppliers and recipients typically make their own arrangements, meeting up locally or shipping the milk, sometimes long distances. The websites commonly suggest that mothers try to pasteurize their milk at home with high heat and ship it frozen; however, it is not known how many comply.
The objective of the study was to determine the level of contamination of human milk by bacteria or viruses. To conduct the study the researchers analyzed samples of human milk purchased via the milk-sharing website. Individuals advertising milk were contacted to arrange purchase; the milk was shipped to a rented mailbox in Ohio. A total of 101 Internet milk samples were compared with 20 unpasteurized samples of milk donated to a milk bank.
About half the samples arrived within 48 hours, but a few took up to six days. Some 62% were packed in dry ice; 19% had no cooling agent. Temperatures of the milk on receipt ranged from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to minus-56 degrees. Some infection-causing bacteria, including E. coli, staphylococcus and streptococcus, were found in 72% of the samples. Three samples contained salmonella, not normally found in breast milk. Coliform bacteria were also found in the some samples. Coliform bacteria are a commonly used bacterial indicator of sanitary quality of foods and water. Their presence indicates lack of sanitation. These bacteria can be found in soil, water and vegetation. They are universally present in large numbers in the feces of warm-blooded animals.
The researchers found that the growth of most of the aforementioned species of bacteria was positively associated with days in transit and negatively associated with the number of months since the milk was expressed. No samples were HIV-positive; however, 21% of the samples were cytomegalovirus DNA-positive. Cytomegalovirus is a common herpes-type virus
The authors concluded that human milk purchased via the Internet exhibited high overall bacterial growth and frequent contamination with pathogenic bacteria; thus, reflecting poor collection, storage, or shipping practices. They cautioned that infants consuming this milk are at risk for negative outcomes, particularly if born preterm or suffer from medical problems. They suggest that increased use of lactation support services may begin to address the milk supply gap for women who want to feed their child human milk but cannot meet his or her needs.
Although the foregoing information may cause major distress for moms who are in need of donor milk. On Thursday, October 24, Prolacta Bioscience, which produces human milk-based nutritional products for premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), will hold a grand opening event on Thursday, October 24, 2013, 4:00 p.m. (PDT), at their new facility in City of Industry, just 20 miles east of Los Angeles. The new 67,000 square foot building will be home to the only pharmaceutical grade state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for human breast milk-based products, and home to the world’s largest human milk freezer as well. The freezer alone stands at 115,560 cubic feet, which will provide controlled frozen storage capacity for more than 110,000 liters of breast milk. The new facility also includes two ISO 8 and one ISO 7 cleanrooms totaling more than 10,000 square feet.
I, your humble correspondent, will contact Prolacta Bioscience in order to obtain information regarding the attainment of safe human milk.