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Raw Milk: Think Before You Drink

June is National Dairy Month and the perfect time to celebrate the nutritious properties of dairy products.  Besides the wonderful taste of a cold chocolate milkshake, the creamy texture of yogurt or the added tang of sharp cheddar on a salad, dairy products provide vital nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and protein.   With all their benefits it’s hard to imagine any risks they might pose and lucky for us dairy lovers most products aren’t risky at all.  However, raw milk, or milk that is not pasteurized, and products made from raw milk carry a higher risk of contamination from disease causing bacteria.

Raw Milk and the Risks of Consumption

Unlike the commercially available pasteurized milk and milk products we see in the grocery store each week, raw milk does not undergo pasteurization-the process of heating milk to a specific temperature to reduce the amount and growth of pathogenic bacteria.  Because they are not pasteurized raw milk products can harbor harmful microorganisms that are normally killed such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobactor and Listeria.  These bacteria pose significant health risks to anyone who drinks raw milk or eats products made from raw milk, especially children, the elderly, pregnant women, and others with weakened immune systems.  Illness ranges from mild gastro intestinal distress lasting a few days to more severe, chronic, long term health complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in acute renal failure.  In light of the risk of food borne illness, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has communicated that “raw milk, no matter how carefully produced, may be unsafe.”


Because of the health risks associated with the consumption of raw milk, interstate sale and most intrastate sale is prohibited.  Because states have the ability to regulate this area individually some allow limited raw milk and raw milk product sales provided they are within state boundaries, are explicitly labeled as unpasteurized, and are for human consumption only.

Despite the health risks, widespread illegality and lack of retail availability, raw milk consumption is on the rise, falsely appealing to a growing segment of consumers who want minimally processed, ‘natural’ foods.  Raw milk advocates from A Campaign for Real Milk suggest it has a superior taste and enhanced nutritional properties.  Unfortunately limited scientific evidence exists to support these claims while there is an abundance of epidemiological data demonstrating the numerous health risks.


According to the research (food safety risk aside) there is no significant difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.  Most commercially sold pasteurized milk in the US is fortified with vitamins A and D and as a result it is a better dietary source of these nutrients.  Raw milk does contain some beneficial bacteria, that when present in high enough quantities can have positive health effects.  However, the number of these bacteria is variable and generally low.  Other foods contain beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, that are less risky to consume, more widely available and cheaper than raw milk.  These include products like yogurt where the bacteria has been added back in after pasteurization and other varieties of foods like juices, cereals and granola bars where the probiotics are added as an additional functional ingredient.  Alternatively, several probiotic supplements are commercially available that may offer the same benefit as consumption of foods containing the bacteria.

Think Before You Drink

When it comes to raw milk, don’t be fooled by false claims of superior nutrition or lofty health benefits.  Know the facts and think before you drink.  Other resources that may be helpful include:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Raw Milk
The United States Food and Drug Administration: Raw Milk

Raw Milk:  Think Before You Drink” by Lindsay Maurath first appeared on the International Food Information Council Foundation Nutrition Blog on June 14, 2010.

© Food Safety News
  • Amy Ritchie

    Raw milk is superior to pasteurized milk because it contains enzymes which are necessary for optimal health, and sorely lacking in the standard American diet. Enzymes and fermented foods (unpasteurized cheese) are master elements needed for bowel health. People used to get milk from their own cow, or the cow next door, or the dairy farm down the road– whereby cows were eating grass, roaming in pasture instead of being locked in mass huddles or kept lactating with hormones etc– in other words, healthy cows, produced healthy safe milk. When industrialization revved up and more people in crowded areas increased consumer demand, diary practices began to shift toward unhealthy conditions for cows which thereby created pathogenic bacteria and disease issues among the cows, into the milk. The reaction was to begin pasteurization.
    Again, pasteurization kills enzymes- in particular the enzyme lactase, which is necessary to break down and digest lactose (in milk). Without the ability to properly digest and absorb milk, the body often responds by allergic reactions or other breakdowns of the digestive system, particularly in the intestine– a source of many inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, as well as allergies and behavioral disorders.

  • Tatiana Forero

    Amy, thank you for that wonderful post.
    I’m particularly appalled by the quote “don’t be fooled by false claims of superior nutrition or lofty health benefits.” This article doesn’t even bother to seriously consider the alternative arguments. Furthermore, to suggest that vitamins, minerals or probiotics “put in” after pasteurization are superior to those found originally in food, is plain wrong. (Not to mention that products that have added probiotics, such as commercialized yogurts, are usually full of sugars, high fructose corn syrup, and other chemicals).
    Ask any medical professional (not holistic, but *allopathic*, western doctor) what percentage of processed vitamins/mineral supplements are actually utilized by the human body and they will tell you: 10% a most, in ideal situations. Don’t believe me, then see this: http://www.drgreger.com, Cornell University Doctor who reviews thousands of medical journals and will tell you, again and again, the outright dangers of pasteurized milk and milk products.

  • Doc Mudd

    Amy & Tatiana:
    You two are joking, right?
    You cannot be serious. There is not a shred of credible scientific evidence to support your wild assertions of unpasteurized milk as a miracle food. Wishful thinking, at best.

  • jon

    not a shared? there is tons. and who will you belive fda that never tried it or a people drinking it for years.not to mention centuries

  • John

    Amy, I don’t know where you get your information. Enzymes are proteins which are broken down by stomach acids just as all proteins. Various organs in your body create and secrete enzymes to digest food. You do not need extraneous enzymes
    As too pathogenic bacteria, you need to read a history book. There have pathogenic bacteria since the beginning. For example
    1) Consumption or Tuberculosis goes back to a 500,000-Year-Old Human (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071207091852.htm),
    2) Undulant fever (brucellosis) has been a disease of man for over a million years (http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006439)
    These two diseases were the primary reasons, public health and animal health officials worked to eradicated brucellosis and tuberculosis form the American dairy herd and require pasteurization. Also the notion that we were better off in some distance age of nuts and berry. I don’t like quoting from wiki pedia but they do have a decent table (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy). But to summarize, before the modern era, 40 years or less was the life expectancy and this year it was 77 years. Infant mortality has dropped significantly over the last 50 years. Are their problems with the industrial age, yes but I would rather have relatively safe food, refrigeration, air conditioning than the conditions my grandparents had with an ice box and spring house and having to shovel coal in the furnace. For most people what is called a milk allegory is actually lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar not a protein. Europeans retained their ability to digest lactose and oppose to other humans in other areas because of the need to find a source for vitamin D. There is a wonderful article in nature that describes the development of genes in cattle and people and development of lactose tolerance http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v35/n4/full/ng1263.html “Gene-culture coevolution between cattle milk protein genes and human lactase genes” or if you want a less technical article read “When Humans First Got Milk” http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2009/09/25/when-humans-first-got-milk/
    I expect all the Westin A Pricer out there and those of the teat party are going to say all this information is fabricated by Big Government, Big dairy, etc and it can’t be believed only they have the unvarnished truth although they can’t show you a single referred journal article. So Amy check out the scientific research and marvels at the many enzymes that your body can produce and that your body doesn’t absorb foreign proteins like enzymes.

  • jessica

    you raw milk haters will say whatever you can if you even for the slightest reason think that someone might be trying to take money out of the hands of Agribiz, politicians who work for them and the Feds. But you always make a point of using the health and well being of the people as your motivation. Shame on all. Cheers to raw milk. I love it.

  • Dog Doctor

    Jessica, I have noticed that all the raw milk proponents always fall back to the “big dairy” Agro Business boogie man when they can’t fight the science. I have been in public health for over 20 years and I guarantee I haven’t gotten a dime from big dairy or Agro business nor has anyone else in regulatory agencies since we have to file an annual report on our finances so please stop read the regulations regarding public health officials. I don’t know any public health folks who are rich, we seem to have an aversion to money and do our jobs out of dedication. We actually don’t care what happens to big anything; we are just trying to protect the public’s health and yours. If you really like raw milk that is your decision but to get others to try it because of the “miraculous properties” of raw milk because it doesn’t have any, at the turn of the last century, it would have been called snake oil. If you want to talk about the nanny state than fight Seatbelt, helmet, child safety seats and smoking bans which all done to protect the public and the public healths

  • jon

    sorry bout the typo i meant shred not shared,shred of evidence.dog: you really think the fda cares that much? all they do is protect the money and lies.look at gras geneneraly recogignized as safe.you like eating plants impregnated with a pesticide gene? we are forced to eat gmos. they dont want cloned meat to be”of our interests” either just like how they are literally gettingaway with murder by giving us cancers and everything else.fda approved sunscreen huh. tons of chemicals to give us cancer.what a joke.about everything in a package is harmful to humans.flouridated water? chlorine in water?death,death.disease.and not to mention a quote from the govt in Iowa court about raw milk. that we have “no fundamental right to the foods we eat”How constitutional!

  • Doc Mudd

    Perhaps consuming too much raw food creates a false sensation of euphoria in the eater, deteriorating steadily to paranoia and ultimately to dementia. There’s as much scientific evidence in support of this self-evident theory as for any others expressed on this page, so far. Yep, too much enzymes will dissolve your good sense, I reckon. Spread the word.

  • jon

    there is plenty of scientific evidence.read the report in favor of raw milk to the LA county board supervisor.That was 10 years ago. what do you want a home lab kit? there is tons of peoples testimonies and studies.what do you think people are lying for no reason.They must be making it all up.for no reason.Thats a\n excellent theory.Peoples brains mushy cuz of enzymes theory. And its all ok with all these meat recalls this year for e coli and whatnot? how about making meat illegal and spinach and peanut butter. in fact lets boil everything and every night everybody can take a boil bath.just in case we have a little bacteria on the skin.maybe an insecticide bath and a little herbacide gargle.That would make us all safe. Babys already have hardend arteries after drinking pasturized milk after weening/abottle feed and thats been studied.and babies are born with over 150 toxins because of whats in our food system and evvironment.These were studies.Its not paranoia.its disturbing.and the food system needs to go back to where it was.because man cannot outdo Gods wholsomeness.and if you dont believe in miracles you dont believe in life.because its a miracle that we even exist.But you must have scientific evidence that you exist.

  • Dog Doctor

    Jon, you are right the world is full of pesticides read the material for 7th graders at http://coep.pharmacy.arizona.edu/curriculum/natural_pesticides/index.html about naturally occuring pesticides.
    You mention presentation to the LA county board of supervisors, the one that I found had this quote from 2001 “Health Benefits of Raw Milk
    A review of the literature found no scientific study which demonstrates medical or health benefits of raw milk. However, many consumers of raw milk claim that drinking raw milk has improved their overall health and the consumers are very strong advocates for their right to consume these products.

    Jon did you mean this presentation?

  • jon

    i dont get what your implying about the 7th grade pesticides.the article is the report in favor of raw milk studied by vonderplantiz and William Douglas.dont know what kind of scientific evidence you need.if it is funded by the govt they probably are suppressing it due to the truth.just like how they got away with gmo’s(monsanto making up there own rules “gras” and the revolving doors of monsanto and the fda.if the govt did study it they wouldnt post it anyway because they intend to keep people in the doctors office. there is also one currently studied in Mich. i think Organic pastures tagged there website.if interested.

  • jon

    if you want technical “science” your going to have to look in to the european science they did it because America wont fund it or something.Besides science fact is actually opinion because they are always rediscovering something and then changing their minds.It always seems just like an up to date opinion.In order for raw milk to have to state claims of curing “diseases” it would be considered a drug.which is rediculous.Because an orange can fix scurvy because of the vitamin c but science would have to call an orange a drug in order for it to cure scurvy.Is there science behind brocolli curing cancer? its not a drug.therfore it cant cure? MyEvidence is enough for me im living proof.

  • Kel

    Wow, I came to this website b/c my husband and I are trying to research the health content of our food, dairy, milk, etc. After reading all these posts I’ll admit I almost want to just quit eating/drinking dairy at all! Still not sure what to do…is there anyone who can provide me some legitimate articles without an bias?? I just want to do what is best for my family…don’t really care who gets the money!

  • mjayrussell

    A group of us from the scientific community along with input from consumers put together the website: http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com. There is a Q&A you might find helpful. If you want to talk about specific questions, feel free to email me at mjay@ucdavis.edu.

  • Doc Mudd

    Kel, you will find the facts at the websites linked at the end of the article above. The last one listed, http://www.realrawmilkfacts.org is perhaps the most up-to-date and accurately informative regarding unpasteurized milk and milk safety generally.
    Like any perishable food, diary food is good, safe nutrition unless it is deliberately mishandled. Enjoy dairy, it’s great!

  • jon

    kel:the bovine, the complete patient, liberation wellness,mercola,ive read alot of the fda biased reports and health us news all the mainstream public eye articals are fda biased mainley stating against only because of rare pathogen risk.look at all the ecoli outbreaks for meat and produce on the foodsaftey website recalls just for 2010. alot that ive been digging into is stating that these raids are just to exploit the farmer.small dairy farmers are going t be extinct one day if people are lazy about their choices.if you want real food it has to come from a real source their is nothing real about processed food.Raw food the way God designed it is what we were intended to eat.But there are so many people that this is not practicle.If you eat alot of processed food and cooked food it might be of your interest to tune yourself with probiotics.This is mainly the staple of raw milk: the live bacteria.if you are scared of what the fda says about it and you believe no one ever dies of taking fda approved drugs or agree that they consider additves and preserves and gmos are safe then take their advice.I woould personally feel more threatened with a burger salad or jar of peanut butter.Ive made the decision to drink it and my family with excellent results but the debate of it all is still pending.advocates are trying to tear down the walls of (the govt thinking we need to sterilize everything)because of thefact we need good bacteria to build our immunities.Its profit before health for the big guys except when it comes to pathagens.But they can exist in any food.Realrawmilkfacts shows some of the rare cases.Listen to Salley Fallon on you tube if you want to hear of the benefits.Also Mark Mcafee from organic pastures.Their is also a different sided bias on goodandtasty.com between ecoli lawyer Bill Marler and the advocate from the complete patient(the guy who wrote the raw milk revolution).This one seemed well stated.

  • Michele Jay-Russell

    A group of us from the scientific community along with input from consumers put together the website: http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com. There is a Q&A you might find helpful. If you want to talk about specific questions, feel free to email me at mjay@ucdavis.edu.

  • danielb

    Yes, I’d much rather have the pus covered, distended and swollen udders of the typically factory farm cow producing milk for my family. Boil the milk, it will kill the germs in the pus–no problem.
    The pasteurization laws became necessary when mass production of milk became a reality–when animals are raised in unhealthy, crowded, and filthy conditions, it IS necessary.
    Not so much when buying from a family farm, where you actually see the animals you’re getting food from.

  • Doc Mudd

    Pasteurization of milk was being adopted as a public health measure early in the last century, about the time of the 1910 census, which determined the size of the average dairy herd in America was 4 cows. These cows, by the way, usually grazed pastures in season.
    Routine pasteurization was a ‘no-brainer’ for the majority of our great-grandparents whose families were quite familiar with farms and farming. This was, coincidentally, the same generation that debunked and rejected popular notions of astrology, quack remedies and farming to lunar cycles.
    Seems their clear common sense is now skipping a generation.

  • Whats so common sense about 3 people dying from listeria in 2007,from pasterized milk?Pasteurization was a no brainer for irresponsible methods of farming,done in a cheap manner for efficiacty only to kill most bacteria but not done with the real value of the health nor quality of the milk or cows in mind.Disposable cows are unhealty diseased drugged and abused pathogen producing crap bathers today.If thats how you like it take another gulp and pretend that you dont know this.The abuse of animals and American health is an epidemic(overweight overdrugged and undernourished)People seeking better health should be able to obtain it and dont give me the pathagen thing because foodbourn illness can be in any food.Theyre are herbs and supplements and foods that can fight pathagens also for saftey measures.we live in a time where we should be wise about the value of our food and have the saftey without having to mutate and kill our food and hide the reality from the consumer.But again,its all about the money not the health.really.Thats why we have to go to a farm to get it.Because in america we have toseek our own truth to health freedom because were saturated with money grubbing liers trying to force us to eat the way they want us to.

  • Doc Mudd

    Right on cue, illustrating my point that clear common sense has skipped a generation, or two. (misinformation and hyperbole are in vogue, apparently)
    No more witnesses, your Honor. I rest my case.
    “There are herbs and supplements…”, indeed. And the waning moon, don’t forget the waning moon! Oh, and ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s…’. When, as grown adults, did we begin taking any of this silly nonsense seriously?

  • public health nurse

    Ha! Dr. Mudd you’re hilarious! I think the seventh grade spelling, grammar and punctuation errors of these loonies gives their education level away. I don’t drink conventional milk because I don’t like my milk chuck full of hormones, preservatives and antibiotics, so I drink organic milk and I love it. I would never drink unpasteurized milk–that would be like putting a gun to my head and hoping the chamber was empty, because if it was empty, how lucky would I be to be alive?!?! I swear insurance companies should deny coverage to people who drink raw milk as their risk for hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which can cost over $200,000 per episode PLUS a kidney transplant later in life, are exponentially greater than pasteurized milk drinkers. Did you know your chances of getting ill from drinking raw milk is 244 times greater than pasteurized milk? Did you know that the most likely to get violently or deathly ill are the very young! Ahem…don’t feed this stuff to your kids you ninnies! Duh people. You don’t like hormones and want “greener pastures”? Drink organic pasteurized milk for god’s sake, but don’t play Russian roulette with yourself OR YOUR CHILDREN. But then again….we are probably talking about the creationism people….science doesn’t amount to anything–but oh do you enjoy your cars, televisions, and airplanes! Did the “creator” just instantly invent them too?

  • wow.Lets play russian roulette with our cars and airplanes. Round of applause for the televions getting kids fatter and more violent.How about the terrorist crashing planes into big important buildings.Or were airplanes a mistake because of this.How about spreading that quasi-safe peanut butter on.(insert-bad punct.here) or that healthful salad chok-fula e-coli?How do you like your sushi?well done?Maybe its all child endangerment then,huh?Lets just be scared of everything and live in a bubble with pasterized milk because were all so certain that there was never a death or never a sickness because of this flawless heating technique. Typos are not the real issue.Just a persons filler for lack of, like low-value food. Ha.a ha.(more bad spelling-insert here)Keep up the good arteri-scarring homogenized though.

  • aed939

    The US is at an immature stage with respect to raw milk. To gain perspective, look at Europe: raw milk vending machines even in schools. I think what is most needed is some clarity on the laws to set the jurisdiction of the FDA on applying its interstate commerce law and some state cases on what constitutes a sale. In brief, herdshares represent ownership, and buying clubs are not distributors or resellers if they are only picking up and delivering presold milk.
    I don’t believe that raw milk is a magic elixir, but I do think that it is a high quality food, consistent with my goal to provide unprocessed foods for my family from local producers. It also retains all of the physical properties that milk is supposed to have (sours–not rots–when clabbered, fat separation, ability to make whey).
    When you consider raw milk as the standard for what milk should be, processed “milk” looks pretty low quality in comparison. It is not just the pasteurization, but the other processing, handling, and scale (tanker trucks, centralized processing facility, hormones, antibiotics, grain feed, confinment lots, additives, decomposition and recombination, standardiztion, etc.) Indeed, processed “milk” is consistent with a mass-produced junk food product where the consumer has no idea where in the world the ingredients are coming from.

  • Mndmdl

    This issue is right up there with politics, religion and abortion. Wow! I really appreciate your comments aed939. Like all people, I just want to feed my family. I purchased raw milk recently and have been fixated on finding credible information on whether or not I should let my family drink it. Twenty years ago when I was in college, a friend of mine was commenting on the problems of over population. At the time, I was like yeah, yeah, whatever. I have to say what he was saying is ringing true. After reading all of these posts, there is a fine line between being poisoned by a mutated inadequate food supply and an abundantly nutritious unregulated one. I think if we could get our government, oppressors, saviors (fill in your favorite noun) to allow us the freedom of choice this issue would be a non-issue. We have a choice to buy a Cadillac or a Kia; and they both can kill you, right? Some people want to spend there money on electronics and some people want to spend there money on better food. I think we should all have a choice.