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Raw Milk Alternatives, Part II

Editor’s Note:   This is the second in a 2-part series on small-scale pasteurization.  In Part I, Food Safety News interviewed Washington state dairy owners Vic and Judy Jensen, who use low-temperature vat pasteurization to treat milk they sell to retail stores and direct to consumers, and Steven Judge, a former Vermont dairy farmer, who designed and built an on-farm pasteurizer for small herds.  

Part II focuses on how small dairy farmers are meeting the needs of consumers who want to buy safe, nutritious, dairy products produced locally–with interviews with milk producers, a state department of agriculture representative, and a university extension specialist.

raw-milk-campylobacter-outbreak-featured.jpgThe advantages of providing customers who want to buy locally produced milk goes beyond the milk itself.

Steven Judge, who created the Bob-While system–an on-farm pasteurizer for small herds–said that studies have shown that local farms that offer dairy products as well as vegetables and fruit attract more customers.

“It keeps people coming to the farm year-round,” Judge said. “It’s a good way for a farm to diversify.”

In addition, the manure from the cows can be applied to the land, thus replenishing the soil.

Then, too, having just a few cows–instead of several hundred or several thousand, or more, as is the case in the industry today–allows a farmer to graze his herd, which Judge said helps keep the landscape healthy.

And when comparing buying locally produced milk to milk that has been trucked in from other places, Judge said it’s far more environmentally and ecologically friendly to buy locally.

And while Judge says that “raw milk is great,” he also points out that every year there are several foodborne illness outbreaks linked to raw milk.

And in his own case, when his family was drinking raw milk from its own cows, a stomach virus would go through the household once a year.

“We haven’t had any of that since we’ve been pasteurizing our milk,” he said.

Even so, Judge said his system would allow a farmer with a small herd of cows to sell raw or pasteurized milk depending on customer demand.

But he also said that the liability and health risks associated with raw milk just aren’t worth it for the farmer.

“There’s no way to test every carton of milk so there’s no way to assure that the milk in every carton is safe,” he said. “This is about food safety. You don’t want to get your family and neighbors sick.”

He also pointed to two cow diseases–leucosis and Johne’s disease, which cows in some parts of the country have.

“That’s another good reason to pasteurize milk,” he said, a comment that was seconded by dairyman Vic Jensen of Golden Glen Creamery.

As for the regulatory hoops his system will have to go through, Judge said he’d like to see the New England states, as well as other states that allow raw milk sales, allow farmers who have licensed raw milk dairies to use his system as well.

milk-bread-nuts-featured.jpgJudge is currently going through the approval process for his system in Vermont and other New England states that allow milk sales.

He has scheduled an open house at his storefront, which is on the town green in South Royalton, Vermont, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day the entire week of August 23.

In Washington state, Jason Kelly, spokesman for the state’s Agriculture Department, said that the process described in the news release about Judge’s on-farm pasteurizer would meet standard operational pasteurization temperatures and times used by the industry.

“We already have a number of small on-farm pasteurization systems in Washington, but our food safety program wasn’t familiar with this particular system,” said Kelly.

Judge’s motto is “Bringing the Cows Back Home.”

“Instead of large confinement dairies, this system brings the cows back to the community,” he said.

Michele Jay-Russell, Food Safety and Security specialist at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at University of California, Davis, (wifss.ucdavis.edu) said that from the perspective of consumers who believe that raw milk confers certain health benefits that are lacking in pasteurized milk, there are probably no alternatives to raw milk.

But from talking with people who seek out raw milk, she’s found that it’s not always the health benefits that are at the top of their priority list.

“There’s a whole movement–a lot of people putting value on knowing their farmer and knowing where their food comes from,” she said. “In the case of raw milk, it’s often a pushback against the large confinement dairies.”

Cows in large confinement dairies are typically fed hay and grain instead of being put out on pasture where they can graze.

When looking at the issue of raw milk from a farmer’s perspective, Jay-Russell said that farmers who sell raw milk are putting themselves under a lot of regulatory pressure and potential liability risk.

Even so, she can understand consumers’ concerns about milk coming from large confinement dairies.

“When they drive by a confinement dairy, they see a lot of manure,” she said. “The impression some people have is that the manure is getting tracked into the milk parlor.”

But she said that Grade A milk standards are very strict and a dairy can’t meet them if the milk has a lot of bacteria in it before it’s pasteurized.

As for nutritional comparisons between raw and pasteurized milk, Jay-Russell said that when you hold the labels of the two types of milk side by side, the nutritional components are very similar.

She describes some raw milk advocates’ claims that pasteurized milk is “dead milk” or “devoid of nutrients” as some of the “most egregious misstatements” she’s heard.

For a comparison of raw and pasteurized milk, Jay-Russell recommends that people refer to “Real Raw Milk Facts“.

Taking into account that fresh food direct from the farm, whether it be milk or produce, is often the tastiest and most flavorful, Jay-Russell said that Judge’s on-farm pasteurizer appears to be a good move forward in making Grade A milk available to consumers on a smaller scale.

“It sounds like a technological step that could open the door,” she said, referring to connecting consumers with local farmers.  Carolyn Tenneson Wahl of Skagvale Holstein Farm in Western Washington, agrees.

Wahl was involved in a business that sold raw milk for a year. And though she and her partners built up a good customer base, the logistics of delivering the milk into the cities didn’t work out.

“There’s a large group of people who want natural probiotics and don’t want the proteins and enzymes in their milk to be denatured,” she said.

Wahl, who has drunk raw milk all of her life, and still drinks it, said there are obviously risks involved with raw milk.

“The farms have gotten so big and some of them are so dirty,” she said.

In contrast, when a dairy is producing Grade A raw milk, it has to take extra care to make sure everything is cle

She agrees with food safety expert Jay-Russell that the Bob-White micro-pasteurizer is a good step forward in giving small-scale farmers the chance to produce milk for local customers, especially at a price of under $20,000.

“This is something real that could potentially aid small farmers to stay viable and productive in this world of “huge factory farms,” Wahl said. “I have no doubt that there is a decent-sized segment of the population who craves farm-fresh milk (along with other ag products), and this micro-pasteurizer could prove to provide the needed link between the consumer and the producer. Small farms are definitely going to have their work cut out for them to survive in today’s ag environment of ‘bigger is better’, and anything that can help to carve a niche for them is good news in my book!”

Raw milk producer Mark McAfee, co-owner of Organic Pastures Dairy in California, said there really isn’t an alternative to raw milk because raw milk contains certain nutrients that aren’t found in pasteurized milk. But like dairymen Jensen and Judge, he also stressed the need for cleanliness.

If a farmer cleans up his act and uses pastures and modern testing, there is absolutely no reason why raw milk can not be very safe,” he said.

For some people, the alternative to raw milk is simple enough: Just don’t drink any milk at all.

But many health experts praise the health benefits of milk, pointing out that it contains nine essential nutrients and vitamins.

And dairyman Jensen, who is chairman of the Washington State Dairy Products Commission, said that the Child Nutrition Act recently passed by the Senate is in line with USDA’s dietary guidelines.

The guidelines recommend that children consume three servings a day of low-fat or nonfat milk or dairy products, including yogurt and cheese.

© Food Safety News
  • aed939

    Let’s think about a case where a farmer decides to get the pasteurizer in order to offer both raw and pasteurized milk side by side. This might be a way of getting on the good side of the health authorities as well as the legal authorities. If they sell both raw and pasteurized, coming from the same herd, the consumers are given a choice of otherwise equal quality-of-care raw milk source. So the consumers can be presented with information to make an informed apples-to-apples choice between the two.
    Would the farmer price the two milks identically? If so, the raw milk consumers are subsidizing the investment cost and additional energy processing cost (heating and additional cooling) of the pasteurizer. So the raw milk should be priced less than the pasteurized milk. In the market, raw milk prices are elevated due to the legal restrictions on sales in some states causing a supply shortage, and the price of pasteurized milk is lower due to cost-cutting methods that pasteurization enables (use of hormones, antibiotics, grain-based feed, CAFOs, breeds that produce fluid with more water content, etc.).

  • Doc Mudd

    The farmer should charge more, far more for unpasteurized milk.
    That would be to fund a warchest for legal costs when the farmer finally succeds in poisoning a child or elderly person…and rightly gets his silly ass sued off.
    I don’t think anyone could possibly charge enough for unpasteurized milk to offset the risk of selling it to misquided consumers. Damned foolish senseless undertaking.

  • Josh

    You’re right we should drink milk that has been sterilized of all of it’s natural nutrients. Pasteurization is great! Plus how else are we going to make all the poop and antibiotics that are in it not effect us?
    Joking aside. Milk is not the kind of substance that should be mass produced. Usually milk is contaminated after it comes out of the animal. Confinement dairies and large corporate run operations are logistically impossible to keep clean enough. Therefore they need to cook the poop that’s in the milk so it doesn’t hurt you. Your best bet is to find a local dairy that you trust and can visually see is clean then make your decision based upon the health benefits for either type of milk.
    As much as “they” would like you to think that raw milk is poison, it’s not. Milk is just a great medium for growing bacteria hence cheese. The downside is milk doesn’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria so it’s really important to keep things clean from animal to consumption.