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Purdue Extension Says Raw Milk Safety Limited by Shelf Life

In almost every debate about unpasteurized milk, an advocate of its safety recalls growing up on the farm when everybody drank raw milk and nobody got sick.

The Purdue University Extension Service has an answer to that debate point. In its new “Raw Milk FAQs,” Purdue Extension points out that “raw milk tends to be consumed more quickly on the farm and therefore provides less incubation time for bacteria.”

But commercial sales of raw milk—currently banned by law in Indiana—put a lot more time between the udder and the lips of consumers. More time is needed for processing, packaging, transportation and shelving raw milk to get it from the farm to urban consumers. And therein lies the increased risk.

“It is possible that repeated exposure to low levels of some bacteria may build immunological resistance,” says Purdue Extension. “but a sudden occurrence of new pathogenic bacteria may still result in disease, especially during times of reduced immunological health.”

Purdue University, which will pick up Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels as its new President in January, published “Raw Milk FAQs” in November, ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for the Indiana Board of Animal Health’s report to the Hoosier General Assembly and incoming Gov. Mike Pence.

The General Assembly last year gave IBAH the job of studying raw milk to determine whether there’s a way to reduce its risk should more consumers be allowed to drink it. Indiana is currently one of 20 states banning commercial sale of raw milk for human consumption.

The IBAH ran an electronic public hearing over the summer months and found that many Hoosiers favor more access to raw milk. Currently only farm families can consume milk on the farm from their own cows.

Pence, the incoming governor, plans to open an Office of Federalism, and some think he is more likely to sign a bill to legalize commercial raw milk sales than the outgoing Daniels was. During six terms representing eastern Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence was allied with several ”Tenth Amendment” causes involving the rights of states under the U.S. Constitution.

Last summer Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) to eliminate the federal requirement for mandatory pasteurization of all milk and milk products. It has not come to a vote in either the Senate or the House.

Most milk producers in the U.S. use a quick, high-temperature pasteurization process to kill most bacterial pathogens. Purdue Extension says milk is an excellent growth media for rapidly multiplying pathogens.

As for whether the pasteurization process damages the milk, as raw milk advocates claim it does, Purdue Extension says the process does not degrade the health benefits of milk. “If milk is contaminated by beneficial bacteria, it may also be contaminated by harmful bacteria” says PUE.

Raw Milk FAQs also addressed claims about claims of raw milk’s health benefits often made by advocates. It says most are anecdotal and not backed by controlled studies. However, it did acknowledge the credibility of the European GABRIELA study, which found that farm children raised on raw milk had fewer cases of asthma and hay fever.

That study concluded the protective effect of unpasteurized milk is likely associated with the whey protein fraction of raw milk. GABRIELA did not control for other factors that might affect development of allergies.

On the side of those looking to prove that raw milk is risky, however, are statistics on U.S. outbreaks. Raw milk was involved in 60 percent of the dairy associated outbreaks from 1993 to 2006, resulting in 1,571 illnesses, 202 hospitalizations and two deaths.

Purdue Extension says that if unpasteurized milk sales are loosened in Indiana, they should be restricted to on-farm transactions because of raw milk’s extremely short shelf life.

The Indiana State Department of Health continues to favor the existing ban on the commercial sale of raw milk for human consumption.

© Food Safety News
  • Richard Moyer

    Your stock picture of a galvanized, ribbed pail in a pasture is an inaccurate, misleading image for unpasteurized milk, as I’ve noted before.  Since there are 30 states that allow sales of ‘raw’ milk, please do the work to find pics of the containers they generally milk into. Farms tours I’ve been on for ‘raw’ milk producers, I’ve seen closed containers, with smooth, stainless steel sides.  Open milk pails I’ve seen (usually for single animal, family use, milk calves, etc), are stainless and smooth throughout, to minimize surfaces for bacteria to hide and facilitate sanitization between uses.  Secondly, there are farmers who would prefer to milk in the pasture, where the cows are, with portable milking parlors.  But they are prevented, in most cases, by state inspectors enforcing inflexible regs.  Just read about that on another forum this morning.  So your pic simultaneously shows a type of pail (ribbed, rough surface, open) that is generally not in use, and the location where cows are rarely milked, but where more micro-scale dairy farmers would like to do so.

    We have our own family milk cow, and our own closed container.  When rarely the milk comes in dirty (shows up on the filter), we cook with it.  The filter is generally clean, and our milk easily lasts a week in the frig, repeated experience from storing up enough to make our cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.  But you are correct that the longer the  time between milking and consumption, the greater the risk of exposure to higher levels of pathogens.  Hence the logic and compromise of on-farm sales in some states.

    As for the stats of illnesses linked to raw milk:  Last time I looked at these, the two deaths were from a soft cheese made in So. Calif, from unpasteurized milk.  Proving your point that the more time, distance and handling, the greater the risk.  HSUS cases in children (from raw milk, sprouts, spinach, other raw veggies, petting zoos, etc) can be very expensive emotionally, monetarily, physiologically, etc, as Bill Marler has ably noted.  Anyone know the relative risk of petting zoos, eating higher risk raw veggies compared to ‘raw’ milk consumption?  Some venues have stopped selling sprouts, but not spinach, peppers or tomatoes.  Could this be comparable to some states managing risk by limiting ‘raw’ milk sales to those on-farm?

  • Other criticism of the GABRIELA study is that it didn’t eliminate other potential causal factors, up to and including the fact that kids in farms are exposed to a variety of substances in small doses from the day they were born–and it is these exposures that could be the real reason they don’t suffer from asthma and allergies. 

    The same also applies, as you and the FAQ note, to safely drinking raw milk directly on the farm. 

    But these are facts. Raw milk fans don’t believe in facts. Facts are dirty little nuisances that get between them and their Food Freedoms. 

  • Great information. Though drinking raw milk may be most nutritious in an ideal world, seems like the potential costs far outweigh any benefits. I have also yet to see any controlled studies showing that raw milk is superior…but the risks are well-documented in history. 

    The child of a friend of mine drank raw milk purchased on-farm and was hospitalized for nearly 2 months for E.Coli, which showed me that even on a farm with hygienic practices, contamination is possible and not worth the risk.

  • People forget that pasteurisation was invented as a response to a problem. The epidemiology of raw milk is a known fact.  There is no nutritional difference and a greatly increase safety factor with pasteurised milk.  Facts.

  • LurkinLizard

    Wow, there’s a lot of generalization and personal attacks here. The bottom line is, if I want to drink raw milk, I should have that choice. (This law doesn’t affect me, I don’t live in that state, and even if I did I have my own cow and dairy goats. We have milk for our OWN use, and don’t sell it, raw or otherwise.)

    The government really should step out of the nanny business and take care of things that matter–ya know, minor details like our country being 16 trillion dollars in debt. There have been far more people sickened by, say, spinach and sprouts in the last decade than there have been by raw milk. In fact my understanding is there have been more illnesses related to PASTEURIZED dairy than there has raw dairy in the same time frame.

    If you don’t want to drink it, don’t. My own darlin’ spouse won’t drink it raw. But don’t try to make laws that tell me what I am permitted to drink, or not.

  • Good point about shelf life.  I would recommend mandatory “milked-on” dates for raw milk so that the consumer knows exactly when the milk was produced.  Also raw milk should be packaged at the site of milking from the original bulk tank.   It should not be transferred to other temporary bulk tanks or transported by tanker trucks.  Also the milk from multiple herds should not be commingled.  These are all characteristics of processed milk. 

  • Average American

    You can get diseases from raw eggs and meat, but the government does not demand that eggs and meat be cooked before sale.  What’s next?  Swat teams in restaurants because they cooked eggs ‘over easy’?

  • This article is wrong in stating that two people have died from raw milk…in fact…there have been ZERO of record.  Two people have died from eating a raw milk based cheese, not raw milk.

  • R T

    I got Salmonella from eggs served to me in a restaurant in LA in 2007 and spent days hospitalized. Forty five other people got sick the same day. My best friend got E. Coli from a Chinese restaurant and almost died. Her hospital bills were over $400,000.00. I have been drinking raw milk for 30 years from my family farm, then Organic Pastures, then from Rawsome in LA and now from Claravale Farms. I have never been sick from raw milk. No one in my family has every been sick from raw milk. None of the hundreds of customers who bought our milk ever got sick. If people want to drink raw milk they should be able to. It’s not going to cause a public health crisis. Spinach does that but you don’t see the government only allowing cooked spinach to be sold. This is not able anyone’s health. This is about politics and money!

  • jeepjockey

    I have lived and worked on a dairy farm and have been drinking raw milk for over 70 years and have never been sick . I also eat and cook with real butter. I cook with real lard when I can find it. A lot of BS is written about raw milk and that is just what it is,BS.Raw milk sowers and can still be used for cooking,processed milk goes rank and bitter and has to be thrown out.Do your research and make your decisions.