Milk and milk products provide a wealth of nutrition benefits. But raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 800 people in the United States have gotten sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk since 1998.
Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.
These harmful bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk, or eats foods made from raw milk. However, the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
“Pasteurized Milk” Explained
Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.
Research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk contains low levels of the type of nonpathogenic bacteria that can cause food spoilage, so storing your pasteurized milk in the refrigerator is still important.
Raw Milk & Pasteurization: Debunking Milk Myths
While pasteurization has helped provide safe, nutrient-rich milk and cheese for over 120 years, some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe healthier alternative.
Here are some common myths and proven facts about milk and pasteurization:
- Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
- Raw milk DOES NOT kill dangerous pathogens by itself.
- Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value.
- Pasteurization DOES NOT mean that it is safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for extended time, particularly after it has been opened.
- Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
- Pasteurization DOES save lives.
Raw Milk and Serious Illness
Symptoms and Advice
Symptoms of foodborne illness include:
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
- Flulike symptoms such as fever, headache, and body ache
While most healthy people will recover from an illness caused by harmful bacteria in raw milk – or in foods made with raw milk – within a short period of time, some can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life-threatening.
If you or someone you know becomes ill after consuming raw milk or products made from raw milk – or, if you are pregnant and think you could have consumed contaminated raw milk or cheese – see a doctor or healthcare provider immediately.
The Dangers of Listeria and Pregnancy
Pregnant women run a serious risk of becoming ill from the bacteria Listeria which can cause miscarriage, fetal death or illness or death of a newborn. If you are pregnant, consuming raw milk – or foods made from raw milk, such as Mexican-style cheese like Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco – can harm your baby even if you don’t feel sick.
Protect Your Family with Wise Food Choices
Most milk and milk products sold commercially in the United States contain pasteurized milk or cream, or the products have been produced in a manner that kills any dangerous bacteria that may be present. But unpasteurized milk and products made from unpasteurized milk aresold and may be harmful to your health. To avoid getting sick from the dangerous bacteria found in raw milk, you should choose your milk and milk products carefully. Consider these guidelines:
Okay to Eat
- Pasteurized milk or cream
- Hard cheeses such as cheddar, and extra hard grating cheeses such as Parmesan
- Soft cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero, and Queso Blanco made frompasteurized milk
- Processed cheeses
- Cream, cottage, and Ricotta cheese made from pasteurized milk
- Yogurt made from pasteurized milk
- Pudding made from pasteurized milk
- Ice cream or frozen yogurt made from pasteurized milk
Unsafe to Eat
- Unpasteurized milk or cream
- Soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, and Mexican-style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero, and Queso Blanco made from unpasteurized milk
- Yogurt made from unpasteurized milk
- Pudding made from unpasteurized milk
- Ice cream or frozen yogurt made from unpasteurized milk
When in Doubt – Ask!
Taking a few moments to make sure milk is pasteurized – or that a product isn’t made from raw milk – can protect you or your loved ones from serious illness.
- Read the label. Safe milk will have the word “pasteurized” on the label. If the word “pasteurized” does not appear on a product’s label, it may contain raw milk.
- Don’t hesitate to ask your grocer or store clerk whether milk or cream has been pasteurized, especially milk or milk products sold in refrigerated cases at grocery or health food stores.
- Don’t buy milk or milk products at farm stands or farmers’ markets unless you can confirm that it has been pasteurized.