Camel Milk : a miracle food or a risky food 

The practice of drinking fresh camel milk originated from Qatar tradition. Drinking fresh camel milk is practiced in semi-arid and arid areas of African and Asian countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and any other regions you can imagine people riding on camels.

Camel milk got famous for its nutritious content along with its therapeutic effects in diabetes, autism, and allergies. The nutrient profile of camel milk is pretty impressive that it is actually more nutritious than cow’s milk. Camel milk is low in fat,  high in iron and other anti-oxidants. What is more, camel milk resembles the milk of human, which might indicate that it could be more suitable for our nutritional needs.  For such benefits, the demand for camel milk is increasing, as it is to be introduced in European market in the future.

The bad news is, that consuming fresh camel milk can lead us to be infected with Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni), a leading foodborne pathogen around the world. Infection by C.jejuni can manifest a variety of symptoms including diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and even inflammatory bowel disease. The cause of the infection can be tracked back to the fact that the milk is consumed in the raw state.

Since the regions where people have the tradition of fresh camel milk consumption are developing or semi-developed countries, they do not have proper refrigeration facilities during the milking process and transportation.  Moreover, milk is often kept in high ambient temperature, increasing the risks of C.jejuni growth.  The bacteria can get into the milk by cross contamination through feces or directly from the udder of the camel into the milk during milking. A study estimating the illness from the consumption of C.jejuni-containing milk showed that the more you drink, the more you are likely to get sick (obvious). However, one interesting finding was that men are more vulnerable of getting the illness from the bacteria than women.

Despite of poor hygienic measures in camel milk production, no outbreak has been reported in Saudi Arabia area. A study notes that the survival of Campylobacter bacteria is low in the intestinal tracts of camels due to high concentration of hydrogen gas present in the rumen. Thus, camel milk may not be a major source of Campylobacter bacteria infections. Instead, pathogens like Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus were detected in larger numbers.

Nonetheless, the fecal samples collected from the camels did contain Campylobacter, even though it was a very small number. Poor handling of the camel milk would result in higher chances of the bacteria growth. Pasteurization processes or acid fermentation are recommended as preventative measures.

As people’s interest is growing in camel milk, more studies are to be done in the future to figure out the exact benefits of the food and the methods to prevent any foodborne pathogens including Campylobacter. For now, establishing a formal microbiological standards regarding camel milk should be prioritized, since there are none.



Some interesting videos:

Curious about the taste?

Camel milk cures Autism!?


Kathy Kim