The Dangers of Raw Milk

By: Magdalenne M. Corso, MD

Raw milk is milk that comes straight from a cow, goat, or sheep.  It has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a certain length of time.  This process has been used for over 120 years to kill harmful organisms which cause diseases such as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis. Raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.  These bacteria can be harmful to anyone, but may be especially harmful to children and teenagers.

Facts About Pasteurization

  • Pasteurization does NOT cause lactose intolerance or allergic reactions.  Both raw and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk protein.
  • Pasteurization does NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value.
  • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
  • Pasteurization DOES save lives.

Who is at Risk of Getting Sick from Unpasteurized Milk?

  • anyone who drinks raw milk or eats foods made from raw milk
  • especially children, pregnant women, older adults

What Foods may be Dangerous?

  • Any dairy foods made from unpasteurized milk (these are sold in the US in stores, especially farm stands and farmer’s markets)
  • Milk or cream made from unpasteurized milk
  • Soft cheeses (Brie, Camembert, Mexican style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero, or Queso Blanco)
  • Yogurt made from unpasteurized milk
  • Pudding made from unpasteurized milk
  • Ice cream or frozen yogurt made from unpasteurized milk

Raw Milk and Serious Illness

Symptoms of food borne illness:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
  • Flu like symptoms such as fever, headache, body ache

Most people will recover, some may have severe, long lasting, or life threatening complications.

 If anyone in your family becomes sick after consuming raw milk or any product made from raw milk, call your doctor.  If you are pregnant and have consumed raw milk or other unpasteurized dairy product, call your doctor even if you don’t feel sick.

Listeria, a bacteria in raw milk, is especially dangerous in pregnancy. It can cause miscarriage, fetal death, or illness or death of a newborn.  If you are pregnant, eating raw milk products can harm your baby even if you do not feel sick.

How do I know if it is Pasteurized?

  • Read the label. Safe milk products will have the word “pasteurized” on the label.
  • If in doubt, ask the grocer or store clerk.
  • Don’t buy milk or dairy products from a farm stand or farmer’s market unless you can confirm that it has been pasteurized
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