The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics warn that drinking milk which has not been pasteurized (raw milk) may be harmful to your health.
What is Raw Milk?
Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria.
What are the Health Risks from Consuming Raw Milk?
- Drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk, or eating products made from raw milk, such as cream, soft cheeses, yogurt or ice cream, can be dangerous because raw milk can be contaminated with harmful bacteria – including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter and Brucella.
- Raw milk and milk products that are contaminated with harmful bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache and body aches, depending on which germs are present.
- If raw milk is contaminated with E.coli and is consumed, a person can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication which may cause kidney damage and sometimes death. Small children are especially susceptible to HUS.
- Pregnant women run a serious risk of becoming ill if they drink raw milk contaminated with Listeria. Listeria can cause miscarriage, fetal death or illness or death of a newborn. Pregnant women should not drink raw milk.
Who Should Avoid Raw Milk?
In addition to risks to the general public, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the following groups should always avoid raw milk and raw milk products:
- Pregnant women or women considering pregnancy
- Children under 5 years of age
- The elderly
- Persons infected with HIV
- Persons with cancer
- Anyone who is immunocompromised (such as persons with an organ transplant)
What is Pasteurization?
- Pasteurization is the process of heating raw milk to kill harmful bacteria that can cause illness and make milk spoil.
- Pasteurization increases the shelf life of milk and milk products (However, pasteurized products do spoil and need to be refrigerated).
- Milk pasteurization has been in practice in the United States for nearly 100 years according to standards set by the US Public Health Service and a variety of state and local regulatory agencies.
- A result, the incidence of milk-borne illness in the US has decreased from approximately 25 per cent of all reported foodborne illness outbreaks in 1938 to less than 1 per cent of reported outbreaks today.
The World Health Organization and other international public health organizations recommend mandatory milk pasteurization as a disease prevention practice around the world.
Common Raw Milk Myths
- Myth #1: Some people believe that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk. This is a myth; the major nutrients in milk are not affected by pasteurization.
- Myth #2: Some people believe that raw milk has natural properties that kill harmful bacteria if ingested. This is a myth; raw milk can grow harmful bacteria.
- Myth #3: Some people believe that pasteurizing milk causes lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. This is a myth; both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
How Can I Prevent Illness from Consuming Dairy Products?
- Be aware of the risks of drinking raw milk or eating products made from raw milk.
- Read the label. Make sure the milk you consume is pasteurized. If the word “pasteurized” does not appear on a product label, it may contain raw milk.
- Aged (60 days) hard cheeses such as cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese may be safely made from unpasteurized milk.
To find out more about the risks of drinking raw milk and raw milk products see: