National Consumers League

Food

NCL Food Issues

Considering raw milk? Not so fast

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Fresh milk pouring into a glassWith the recent outbreak of foodborne illness -- which has sickened at least 80 -- caused by raw milk, more attention has been drawn to this contentious issue. Advocates of drinking raw milk claim that it has increased health benefits not available in milk that has been commercially pasteurized. With all the rhetoric surrounding the topic, it can be difficult for consumers to get a straight answer about raw milk. Here are some basic things you should know to make healthy decisions for you and your family.

 

What is raw milk?

The term raw milk refers to milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a processing step that involves heating milk in order to kill off any bacteria that may be living in it. These bacteria come from the cows that are milked, especially from feces.

Is raw milk legal?

The sale of raw milk across state lines is illegal throughout the United States. This means that it is not widely available. However, certain states do allow the sale of raw milk within their borders.

Is raw milk safe?

There are many risks to drinking raw milk. Pasteurization is an essential part of making conventional milk safe and has been so for decades. Without the benefit of pasteurization, bacteria which may be in milk are not killed and are given an opportunity to multiply and grow. Risk of foodborne illness is increased by the consumption of raw milk.

Does raw milk cause foodborne illness?

A recent report from the CDC showed that raw milk contributes substantially to the burden of foodborne illness in this country. While raw milk accounts for only 1 percent of the total milk drunk in the US, it accounted for 73 of 121 dairy-related foodborne illness outbreaks between 1993 and 2006. Additionally, the report showed that illnesses from raw milk were more severe and resulted in higher rates of hospitalization.

Why do some people choose raw milk?

Given the dangers associated with raw milk, one might reasonably ask what the supposed benefits to drinking it are. Proponents claim that raw milk helps ameliorate a number of health conditions, such as asthma. Despite anecdotal support for this claim, no scientific studies have confirmed that raw milk confers additional health benefits. Furthermore, raw milk is nutritionally equivalent to pasteurized milk.

Our recommendations when it comes to raw milk? Drinking it means taking a gamble with your health, so we strongly recommend against it. Especially avoid giving raw milk to young children, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with a compromised immune system.