National Consumers League

Drinking raw milk is a raw deal

kelsey By Kelsey Albright, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

Over the past decade, food movements centered around eating local foods, “locavore”, organic, and ethically produced foods have sky rocketed. Being that many of these forms of producing and labeling food are the start of a new frontier, plenty of laws and regulations have been put in place to ensure that consumers are not misinformed about their food.  As part of this movement, many Americans have turned to drinking raw milk. Surprisingly little is known about raw milk, and current regulations are lax to say the least.

More and more frequently consumers, especially children and others with weaker immune systems, are getting sick thanks to bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria that can easily live and grow in unpasteurized milk.  Maddie Powell is just one example of a child gravely sickened by E. coli found in raw milk.  She developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS ) and was hospitalized for weeks at great cost to her family. So why do people keep drinking raw milk if it’s so potentially dangerous?  Overwhelmingly, people are misinformed about how risky it is and assume that it must be more nutritious because it’s less processed. 

No scientific evidence supports raw milk having more nutrients.  The CDC estimates that between 1993 and 2006, 1500 people have fallen ill from drinking raw milk and consumers are 150 times more likely to contract a food borne illness from raw milk than pasteurized dairy products.  Pregnant women should be especially careful because even if they don’t feel sick, bacteria in raw milk can cause miscarriage, fetal death or illness, and even death among newborns. In this day and age of high fat, sugar, and salt, it can be tempting to search for foods that are the least processed.  Fortunately there are alternatives to raw milk.  Light pasteurization or “low-temperature vat pasteurization” heats smaller amounts of milk to a temperature cooler than is typical with regular pasteurization for a longer amount of time.  Also buying milks that aren’t homogenized, meaning the fat hasn’t been broken up so it remains suspended in the milk, is a viable option for those who might think raw milk is simply tastier.  Please, for your own sake, don’t drink raw milk.