Raw milk and raw milk products are 150 times more likely than their pasteurized counterparts to sicken those who consume them, according to a 13-year review published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. States that permit raw milk sales also have more than twice as many illness outbreaks as states where raw milk is not sold.

The CDC study, published online in Emerging Infectious Diseases, reviewed dairy-related outbreaks between 1993 and 2006 in all 50 states, during which time the authors counted 121 dairy-related illness outbreaks resulting in 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations and three deaths.

Despite raw milk products accounting for approximately one percent of dairy production in the U.S., raw milk dairies were linked to 60 percent of those dairy-related outbreaks. In addition, 202 of the 239 hospitalizations (85 percent) resulted from raw milk outbreaks. Thirteen percent of patients from raw milk outbreaks were hospitalized, versus one percent of patients from pasteurized milk outbreaks.

Seventy-five percent of the raw milk outbreaks occurred in the 21 states where the sale of raw milk was legal at the study’s onset in 1993. Today, 30 states permit the sale of raw milk, while another seven are considering raw milk legislation changes this year.

The study found that individuals under the age of 20 accounted for 60 percent of those affected by raw milk outbreaks, compared with 23 percent associated with pasteurized products. Children were also more likely than adults to become seriously ill from pathogenic bacteria in raw milk.

The differences in illness severity between raw and pasteurized milk are largely due to the pathogens present in each: People sickened from raw milk typically ingest injurious bacteria — most commonly Salmonella or Campylobacter — whereas pasteurized milk outbreaks more often result from “relatively mild” pathogens such as norovirus, according to the CDC.

This is the first comprehensive federal-level update to raw milk statistics of this kind since 1998, when the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition released a similar review of raw milk outbreaks spanning from 1973 to 1992. That study found that 46 raw milk outbreaks  occurred during the review window, with 40 of them in states with legal raw milk sales.

At the time, the 1998 study concluded that “consumption of raw milk remains a preventable cause of foodborne illness.” Similarly, Tuesday’s CDC study suggested that “stronger restrictions and enforcement should be considered.”

“It’s really helpful to have these numbers updated as interest in raw milk increases through activist groups,” said Michele Jay-Russell, Ph.D., program manager of the Western Center for Food Safety at University of California Davis.

“I wouldn’t say the statistics are surprising, but it’s helpful to know that, unfortunately, things have not really changed since the last report,” she added. “Despite being in the 21st century, raw milk continues to make people sick.”

The study comes on the heels of one of the largest raw milk outbreaks in U.S. history. As of Tuesday, 77 people in four states have been sickened in a Campylobacter outbreak linked to raw milk from Your Family Cow dairy in Pennsylvania that began in late January. At least nine of the victims from that outbreak have been hospitalized.

Many of those who are ill in that outbreak are children.  “Parents who have lived through the experience of watching their child fight for their life after drinking raw milk now say that it’s just not worth the risk,” said Dr. Barbara Mahon, co-author of the CDC study, in a news release.

Since January 2007, the end of the study’s review window, there have been at least 56 additional foodborne illness outbreaks associated with raw milk. Between 2010 and 2011, raw dairy products were linked to 21 outbreaks and 201 illnesses, while pasteurized dairy products caused two outbreaks and 39 illnesses.

According to Jay-Russell, nearly all instances of outbreaks from pasteurized dairy occur because of contamination after the pasteurization process.

This year, Indiana, New Jersey, Iowa, Idaho, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Wisconsin have all considered changes to their raw milk sales laws. The majority of the bills under review would either permit the sale of raw milk where currently illegal, or remove certain restrictions on its sale in states where it’s already permitted.

Federal law restricts the transport of raw milk across state lines for sale, though consumers are free to travel across state lines to purchase milk and take it home, and there is no law against consuming unpasteurized milk.

The push for loosened raw milk sales rules across many states runs counter to the best scientific recommendations the CDC and Food and Drug Administration can make based on the available data, Jay-Russell said. Many raw milk proponents argue that raw milk provides nutrients and numerous health benefits negated by the pasteurization process, while many food scientists say there’s no credible scientific evidence for any of those claims.

“It’s [the CDC and FDA’s] charge to look at the health statistics and inform the public and help policy makers create policy that makes sense,” Jay-Russell said. “But there’s a push-back. Some groups don’t want government influence over food, so it makes it a much more political debate than a scientific one.”

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  • Rich Gruber

    Why in the world would you want to drink raw milk? That is the reason for pasteurization. With all of the unknowns in our food chain, this is playing roulette. The trade off for nutrients is pretty much canceled out by the threat of sickness. Just one man’s opinion.

  • Alan

    These numbers are unfairly stacked against raw milk. They never remove cases initially attributed to raw milk but never proven to be linked as in the case of Organic Pastures in CA. In addition, this includes cheese cases where many times the cheese is not being produced by licensed facilities. If they would remove the bias and just report the proven cases, I’d believe them. I’ve been drinking raw milk for six years from a licensed dairy. Not worried.

  • Raw Milk Myth Buster 1 – Organic Pastures 2006 Raw Milk E. coli Outbreak was caused by Spinach
    Organic Pastures and the Weston A. Price Foundation continue to repeat that the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 Raw Milk Product Outbreak was caused by Spinach.
    – 2006 Organic Pastures outbreak, illness onsets ranged from 9/6 to 9/24
    – 5 patients had definite exposure to raw milk or raw milk products produced by Organic Pastures; the 6th patient denied drinking Organic Pastures milk but his family routinely consumed OP raw milk.
    2 raw whole milk
    2 raw skim milk
    1 raw colostrum
    – 5 patients with culture confirmation were PFGE matches to each other. Final report describes the PFGE patterns as “new to the PulseNet database” and they “differed markedly from the patterns of the concurrent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak strain associated with spinach consumption.”
    – 4 patients reported consuming leafy salad greens of any kind
    – 4 patients reported consuming lettuce
    – 1 patient consumed bagged spinach on two occasions at restaurants
    – 1 patient consumed bunched spinach (not bagged Dole)
    – 2 patients consumed alfalfa sprouts
    – 1 patient consumed ground beef
    – No common restaurants
    – No other common exposures

  • mrothschild

    The California Department of Public Health said 10 samples collected from Organic Pasture’s calf area were positive for E. coli O157:H7, and two were a genetic match for the outbreak strain that infected five children and made them ill — three very ill with potentially fatal hemolytic uremic syndrome. Because relatively few people drink raw milk, the fact that all of these children did — and had no other common exposures to the same foods or animals — is very strong evidence that Organic Pastures raw milk was the likely source of their infections.

  • Organic Pastures Dairy E. coli O157:H7 Raw Milk Product Outbreak 2006
    Its time to just get over it. The 2006 E. coli outbreak was caused by OP raw milk. For goodness sake, it it had been spinach, I would have sued the spinach grower, Dole, and not OP.

  • Mary, I think you are talking about the 2011 Organic Pastures Outbreak. Here is a partial link to some information:
    I understand that the final report on the 2011 outbreak will be out in teh next few weeks.

  • Alan

    I was talking about 2011. As I understand it, no ecoli was found in the milk in the possesion of the victims. No ecoli was found in any of the Organic Pastures products. Even if it was found in a calf pen, I still thinks it’s a stretch.
    Regardless, anytime ecoli is “linked” to a dairy but not found in the products or on the facility, the dairy still seems to be presumed guilty. If they can’t prove it was a dairy, in my opinion, those numbers should be removed from the statistics. Circumstantial evidence doesn’t cut it with me.

  • George Wilson, MBA, MT(ASCP)

    The issue is in raw milk Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7,Salmonella and other pathogens cause foodborne illness. Pasteurization is the most effective measure to minimize this risk and cause for foodborne illness.
    Another point of consideration is the economic impact created those States allowing the sale of raw milk causing a foodborne outbreaks. Economic impact being; hospitalizations and associated medical costs, State & Federal governmental costs for outbreak investigation, prosecution and court costs, and so on.
    These costs are paid by the taxpayer, me for one, so that a few raw milk proponents can have their milk. I say no more and federal law needs to be changed where: an outbreak occurs in States that allow the sell of raw milk through CDC & FDA investigation and found to be the source, that State pays all costs. To include Federal prosecution and associated costs.
    The other point of consideration are children who become ill, and those who die. The State, in addition to the parents, both have accountability. Who is looking out for the child who cannot make an informed decision. Is raw milk safe to drink.
    Thank you for reading and hope this practice is changed.

  • Milliemama

    3 deaths in 13 years?!!! Those statistics are way better than the deaths caused by the cancer and chronic illnesses we’re getting from consuming daily toxic doses of processed oils, soy and corn products. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer could all be lessened by the government telling us the truth about the toxic substances supporting our economy, but will they tell us, no. They’re worried about raw milk’s 3 deaths over 13 years. Pathetic, really.

  • Mary Rothschild

    The California Department of Public Health said 10 samples collected from Organic Pasture’s calf area were positive for E. coli O157:H7, and two were a genetic match for the outbreak strain that infected five children and made them ill — three very ill with potentially fatal hemolytic uremic syndrome. Because relatively few people drink raw milk, the fact that all of these children did — and had no other common exposures to the same foods or animals — is very strong evidence that Organic Pastures raw milk was the likely source of their infections.

  • Alan

    Notice Marler’s comments about Organic Pastures 2006 contain no evidence but only circumstantial association. It reflects his conviction “bias” that raw milk is always guilty.
    G. Wilson: Milk produced for direct consumption is far cleaner than milk produced for pasteurization. I wouldn’t drink the latter either.

  • Marco Hoffman

    Alan: Given your ignorance of epidemiology, I recommend you not start your own raw milk dairy. Because the courts, juries and your insurance company will be compensating your unfortunate victims — many of them likely small children — based precisely on the overwhelming evidence you dismiss so callously as merely circumstantial.

  • M. “Mike” Mychajlonka, Ph. D.

    Why does this (or any other) discussion about raw milk seem to generate enough heat to bring a good-sized teapot to a rolling boil and yet not even mention that, these days, there are other ways to “Pasteurize” something other than partially cooking it, which is precisely what all the raw milk drinkers appear to object to. This “issue” is really just a business opportunity. Why is it not treated as such?

  • Alan

    Marco, Only the ignorant resort to name calling and use hyperbole as if it’s a certainty. If I am ignorant of epidemiology, (I’m not) it’s because I rarely, rarely get sick even though I drink raw milk or perhaps because I drink raw milk. I don’t pasteurize my existence, isolate myself, walk around with hand wipes or a can of Lysol, yet somehow I’m often healthy while many around me are sick who do take those precautions.
    When contaminants are found in the conventional food system, they always seem to find it in the food or processing equipment. When it comes to raw milk, evidently it doesn’t have to be found in the food, in the equipment or even necessarily on the farm. Just because they all drank raw milk, raw milk must be the culprit. Who knows what else they might have eaten in common but we’ll never know if the questioning went beyond raw milk or not.
    I’m not saying raw milk is never the problem, I just want fair and balanced treatment of these cases.

  • George Wilson, MBA, MT(ASCP)

    Perhaps you should educate yourself in foodborne infection regardless of source. Emphasis in today’s society is disease prevention. This is the subject matter of discussion.
    Your comment on whether raw milk or pasteurized milk is cleaner has no merit. You need to focus on whether raw milk might contain a pathogenic bacteria that can cause disease. Whereas, pasteurized milk has been processed to destroy pathogenic bacteria that cause disease.
    Hope this helps.

  • Alan

    George. Thanks for the suggestion. If you read the pro raw milk literature with an open mind, you’ll find that disease prevention is exactly why many of us chose to drink it. Just because you pasteurize bacteria and kill it, doesn’t mean the remnants of what’s left behind are not harmful. Raw milk produced for direct consumption is much cleaner that milk produced for pasteurization. People drink raw milk in Europe and around the world and seem to do so successfully without the fear mongering that takes place in America.
    You should watch “Wild Horses of Mongolia with Julia Roberts.” The main food of Mongolians is raw mare’s milk. There teeth look as good as Julia’s Hollywood smile. There is not a health crisis from drinking raw milk there. Just the opposite.

  • Cassandra

    LOL, as if anyone would believe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their only purpose is to eliminate local and small farmed products in favor of agribusinesses with any report they can manufacture. Research who funds them and who benefits from these “reports”.

  • Doug

    Perhaps you should educate yourself on your hopeless mantra that assumes all of the healthcare costs were supported by the tax payers. Where is the proof and evidence of that? Since most people that afford raw milk have the means to pay for it, I would assume that most of the people sickened by the supposed raw milk had good jobs and had health care insurance plans that covered the costs. I’m awaiting your reply with evidence!!
    By the way, Pasteurized milk does cause illness. It’s data are in the above article.

  • p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

    Most people are not concerned with the
    safety of what they eat and are certainly not concerned with what
    others eat so why do we pretend to be concerned with the safety of
    raw milk? This is obviously politics and politics can not be allowed
    into a discussion of this magnitude. This is bigger than taxes or how
    much we make, it’s bigger than the Holocaust, bigger than Vietnam,
    bigger than the number of Russians killed in WWII, even bigger then
    the number of Chinese killed in WWII. We are talking about the murder
    of every man woman and child in the United States for the last one
    hundred years.

    Another thing, Why do we allow the
    court to talk to our farmers like we are not even in the room. This is
    really between the consumer and the food processor. Processors have
    gone whining to the police that consumers are going directly to the
    farm and are refusing to play with them.