“Back to nature”– that’s what many Americans are trying to do with the foods that they buy and eat. They are shopping at farmers’ markets, picking organic foods at their grocery stores, participating in food cooperatives (or co-ops), and some are even growing their own food. Many people are trying to eat foods that are produced with minimal processing.
However, milk and products made from milk (like cheese, ice cream, and yogurt) are foods that, when consumed raw, pose severe health risks. Milk and products made from milk need minimal processing, called pasteurization, which can be done by heating the milk briefly (for example heating it to 161°F for about 20 seconds), to kill disease-causing germs (e.g., Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter) that can be found in raw milk.
Before the invention and acceptance of pasteurization, raw milk was a common source of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, diphtheria, severe streptococcal infections, typhoid fever, and other foodborne illnesses. These illnesses killed many people each year, especially young children. In the 1900s many mothers recognized this risk and would boil milk (bringing it to a temperature of 212°F) before giving it to their infants and young children.
Many studies have shown that pasteurization does not significantly change the nutritional value of milk – pasteurized milk is rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients. Heat slightly affects a few of the vitamins found in milk– thiamine, vitamin B12, and vitamin C– but milk is only a minor source of these vitamins.
This website provides information for people who want to know about:
— Important things to consider if you are trying to decide whether you and your family want to try raw milk and milk products
— Diseases caused by raw milk and milk products
— Outbreaks of foodborne illnesses involving raw milk and raw milk products
Trying to Decide About Raw Milk?
Developing a healthy lifestyle is a process with many decisions and steps. One step you might be thinking about is adding raw milk to your diet. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful germs. Germs include bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It’s important to understand the risks of drinking raw milk, especially because you may be hearing claims about the supposed “benefits” of raw milk.
Maybe you want to eat less processed food, or maybe you’ve heard that raw milk contains more of certain nutrients than pasteurized milk. Perhaps you’ve heard that raw milk can even prevent or solve various health problems. For some people, buying raw milk is one way they try to support local farmers and sustainable agriculture.
It is important to know that milk can be a very efficient home for bacteria and other germs. When milk is pasteurized, some bacteria remain in it, but the disease-causing ones are killed. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill disease-causing germs. Harmful germs usually don’t change the look, taste, or smell of milk, so only when milk has been pasteurized can you be confident that these germs are not present. To ensure that milk is safe, processors rapidly cool it after pasteurization, practice sanitary handling, and store milk in clean, closed containers at 45 degrees F or below.
You can’t look at, smell, or taste a bottle of raw milk and tell if it’s safe to drink. Make the best decision for the health of your family. If you want to keep milk in your family’s diet, protect them by not giving them raw milk. Even healthy adults can get sick from drinking raw milk. If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it has health benefits, consider other options.
Meet three women whose choice of raw milk for themselves or their loved ones had life-long consequences. Each of the women or their loved ones were part of an outbreak caused by raw milk.
More information about raw milk can be found on the Raw Milk Questions and Answers page.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photos.