Risks and Benefits of Raw Dairy

If you've heard anything about raw milk and other kinds of raw dairy products, you may be tempted to try them. Raw milk is milk in its most natural state, straight from the cow or any mammal that produces milk for its young. It does not go through pasteurization, the process of heating food to a particular temperature for a certain length of time to get rid of disease-causing microbes, and it can be used to make cheese, butter, and other dairy foods.

Proponents of raw milk claim that it strengthens the immune system by suppressing harmful bacteria and encouraging the growth of good bacteria. On its website, the Raw Milk Institute calls it "a living whole food that contains: enzymes, a biodiversity of beneficial bacteria, sugars, proteins, fats, minerals, antibodies, and other essential elements needed to nourish a growing baby." Many people tout raw milk as a panacea for all kinds of health woes such as allergies, intestinal conditions, and nervous-system disorders, and believe pasteurization negates much of the nutritional value of milk.

The government, however, says raw milk is unsafe for people to consume. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), unpasteurized milk and dairy can contain dangerous bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, and E. coli usually picked up as the milk exits the animal. These bugs cause vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, headaches, and fever. Most people recover in a few days, but reactions in people with weakened immune systems can be severe and occasionally fatal. Young children, the elderly, cancer patients, and those who've received organ transplants are at highest risk.

But are the risks of illness really that much greater with raw milk than pasteurized milk? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which conducted a study reviewing dairy-related disease outbreaks from 1993 to 2006, the rate of outbreaks caused by raw milk and dairy products was 150 times greater than the rate of outbreaks caused by pasteurized products. Almost all of the people hospitalized during the study period had consumed raw milk.

If you're still determined to use raw milk, be warned that you can't tell if it's safe just by looking at, smelling, or tasting it. You also may have a tough time finding it. Nearly all milk and milk products sold commercially are pasteurized, and different states have different laws regarding the sale of raw dairy.




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Raw (Unpasteurized) Milk." Web. http://www.cdc.gov/features/rawmilk/

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. "The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk." Web. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/consumers/ucm079516.htm

Raw Milk Institute. "About Raw Milk." http://rawmilkinstitute.net/about-raw-milk/