Prevalence data were collected from official microbiological records monitoring four selected foodborne pathogens (Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter jejuni) in raw milk sold by self-service vending machines in seven Italian regions (60,907 samples from 1,239 vending machines) from 2008 to 2011. Data from samples analyzed by both culture-based and real-time PCR methods were collected in one region. One hundred raw milk consumers in four regions were interviewed while purchasing raw milk from vending machines. One hundred seventy-eight of 60,907 samples were positive for one of the four foodborne pathogens investigated: 18 samples were positive for Salmonella, 83 for L. monocytogenes, 24 for E. coli O157:H7, and 53 for C. jejuni in the seven regions investigated. No significant differences in prevalence were found among regions, but a significant increase in C. jejuni prevalence was observed over the years of the study. A comparison of the two analysis methods revealed that real-time PCR was 2.71 to 9.40 times more sensitive than the culture-based method. Data on consumer habits revealed that some behaviors may enhance the risk of infection linked to raw milk consumption: 37% of consumers did not boil milk before consumption, 93% never used an insulated bag to transport raw milk home, and raw milk was consumed by children younger than 5 years of age. These results emphasize that end-product controls alone are not sufficient to guarantee an adequate level of consumer protection. The beta distribution of positive samples in this study and the data on raw milk consumer habits will be useful for the development of a national quantitative risk assessment of Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, E. coli O157, and C. jejuni infection associated with raw milk consumption.

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