Raw Milk Questions & Answers
Updated November 1, 2011
- Is it safe to consume raw milk?
- Have any illnesses or deaths been caused by consuming raw milk products?
- What are some of the symptoms of illnesses that can be caused by consuming raw milk?
- Are there any benefits to drinking raw milk?
- Is it legal to sell raw milk for human consumption?
- How does the pasteurization of raw milk protect consumers?
- Does pasteurization affect the nutrient content of milk?
- Does pasteurizing milk alter it in a fashion that can cause allergic reactions?
- Can drinking pasteurized milk cause lactose intolerance?
- Does raw milk kill pathogens?
- Does consuming raw milk cure some illnesses and allergies
1. Is it safe to consume raw milk?
No. FDA and other health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that raw milk is unsafe because it can contain disease-causing pathogens, including:
- Enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Salmonella species
- E. coli
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis
- Mycobacterium bovis
- Brucella species
- Coxiella Burnetii
- Yersinia enterocolitica
Illnesses caused by these bacteria can be especially problematic for infants, young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. One complication that can arise as a result of infection with E. coli O157:H7 is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause acute renal failure, especially in the very young or the elderly.
2. Have any illnesses or deaths been caused by consuming raw milk products?
Based on CDC data, literature, and state and local reports, FDA compiled a list of outbreaks that occurred in the U.S. from 1987 to September 2010. During this period, there were at least 133 outbreaks due to the consumption of raw milk and raw milk products. These outbreaks caused 2,659 cases of illnesses, 269 hospitalizations, 3 deaths, 6 stillbirths and 2 miscarriages. Because not all cases of foodborne illness are recognized and reported, the actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is greater.
3. What are some of the symptoms of illnesses that can be caused by consuming raw milk?
Symptoms of illness caused by consuming raw milk include: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, and body ache. Most healthy people will recover from illness caused by harmful bacteria in raw milk - or in foods made with raw milk - within a short period of time, however, some individuals can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life threatening.
If you or someone you know becomes ill after consuming raw milk - or, if you are pregnant and think you could have consumed contaminated raw milk or cheese made from raw milk - see a doctor or healthcare provider immediately.
4. Are there any benefits to drinking raw milk?
No. As a science-based regulatory agency, the FDA looks to the scientific literature for information on benefits and risks associated with raw milk. While the perceived nutritional and health benefits of raw milk consumption have not been scientifically substantiated, the health risks are clear. Please see http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm247991.htm for more information.
5. Is it legal to sell raw milk for human consumption?
Not in interstate commerce. Pasteurization of milk was adopted decades ago as a basic public health measure to kill dangerous bacteria and largely eliminate the risk of getting sick from one of the most important staples of the American diet. In 1987, the FDA issued a regulation prohibiting the interstate sale of raw milk. However, some states do permit the intrastate (within the borders) sale of raw milk intended for human consumption.
6. How does the pasteurization of raw milk protect consumers?
Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. Pasteurization kills the bacteria responsible for diseases such as listeriosis, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis, as well as other bacteria. However, pasteurized milk still contains low levels of the type of nonpathogenic bacteria that can cause food to spoil, so it is important to keep pasteurized milk refrigerated.
7. Does pasteurization affect the nutrient content of milk?
Research shows no meaningful difference between the nutrient content of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.
8. Does pasteurizing milk alter it in a fashion that can cause allergic reactions?
No. The milk proteins which cause allergic reactions in dairy-sensitive people are present in both raw milk and pasteurized milk.
9. Can drinking pasteurized milk cause lactose intolerance?
No. Lactose intolerance is due to an insufficient production in the body of the enzyme needed to break down lactose, beta-galactosidase. Lactose is present in both raw milk and pasteurized milk at the same concentration. Pasteurization does not impact the concentration of lactose.
10. Does raw milk kill pathogens?
No, it does not. In fact, raw milk potentially harbors a wide range of dangerous pathogens that can cause illness.
11. Does consuming raw milk cure some illnesses and allergies?
There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that raw milk has any effect on illness or allergies.