Drinking Raw Milk: It's Not Worth the Risk
By LCDR Casey Barton Behravesh, DVM, DrPH, US Public Health Service
There are many reasons why some people are thinking about drinking raw milk these days. (Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful germs.) Some people want to eat less processed food. Others have heard that raw milk contains more of certain nutrients than pasteurized milk, or that it can prevent or even solve various health problems. Still others think of buying raw milk as one way to support local farmers and sustainable agriculture.
As a public health epidemiologist and veterinarian, I know firsthand how animals and their germs can contaminate all kinds of food, including milk. Also, in my job in the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch at CDC, I help investigate outbreaks caused by contaminated food and contact with infected animals.
If you’re thinking about adding raw milk to your diet (or your family’s diet), it’s important for you to understand the risks of drinking raw milk.
Why raw milk is dangerous
Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that can make you very sick or kill you. Yes, it’s true that it’s possible to get “food poisoning” or foodborne illnesses from many foods, but raw milk is one of the riskiest of all. Raw milk and products made from raw milk (such as cheeses and yogurts) can cause serious infections, such as Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.
What happens if you get sick from raw milk
Getting sick from raw milk can mean many days of diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. Less commonly, it can mean kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders, and even death. The seriousness of the illness is determined by many factors, such as the type of germ, the amount of contamination, and the person’s immune defenses.
Speaking of immune defenses… it’s important to remember that some people are at higher risk of getting sick from drinking raw milk. The risk is greater for certain age groups, such as infants, young children, and older adults. It’s also particularly risky for pregnant women (and their unborn babies) and those with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, an organ transplant, or HIV/AIDS.
Though some people are at higher risk of getting sick from raw milk, even healthy adults and older children can get seriously ill. Those who recover often suffer from life-long medical consequences. To see how devastating these illnesses can be, check out these real-life stories about the dangers of raw milk.
Even healthy animals may carry germs that contaminate raw milk
Outbreaks of illness related to raw milk have been traced back to both grass-fed and grain-fed animals. Raw milk supplied by “certified,” “organic,” or “local dairies has no guarantee of being safe.
How to stay safe
To keep your family safe, follow these simple tips:
- Always drink pasteurized milk. Check the label or package to be sure.
- If you prefer organic milk, make sure that it’s pasteurized. Raw, organic milk is not safe.
- If you or a member of your family consumes raw milk and then becomes ill, call your health care provider immediately. If it’s an emergency, call 911.
For more information, including questions and answers about raw milk, see Food Safety and Raw Milk (CDC).
I agree with the other poster who said "why not an article about raw spinich not being worththe risk". Or cantalope. Or peanut butter. Peopel have DIED from those things. Why don't you rushout and ban them like you are trying to ban raw milk? I was raised on it. It was actually delivered to our door every day. Here's a better one "Tobacco, Not Worth the Risk". We KNOW how many people that kills every years. But there's too much money in tax revenue to get rid of tobacco isn't there? Leave our food alone! The governmant STINKS at giving dietary advice.
People CAN cook eggs and meat long enough to kill the bacteria but DO they? Unless you eat your eggs completely hard-cooked and your meat well-done, then you are running the risk of food borne infection. My point is simply that I can order my eggs over-easy at a restaurant but that restaurant may not serve me raw milk. It seems inconsistent.
I have used raw cow and goat milk for years. I also made yogurt & kefir from both products. Before I started using raw milk I had high blood sugar, high cholesterol, chronic diarrhea, and terrible digestion. Today my blood tests come back perfect. I credit raw milk with my health improvement, because I have done nothing else consistently to improve the blood work scores.
There were outbreaks this year of Campylobacter jejuni caused by drinking raw milk. Why is it always left out of the discussion by public health authorities? It is a very commong microbe and can cause autoimmune disease in the aftermath of infection.
I am actually fairly dissapointed by this article. Being a vegetarian myself, and growing up on an organic diet, I think it is sad that people are trying to make raw milk sounds dangerous. My family gets raw milk from a local organic farm right down the street, and no one in my family has ever gotten sick. My three and a half year old brother loves the milk. People can get sick from anything they eat or drink, and i believe there are a lot more harmful things such as fast food, soda, and unorganic foods.
"...itâ€™s true that itâ€™s possible to get â€œfood poisoningâ€ or foodborne illnesses from many foods, but raw milk is one of the riskiest of all." I wish the author had backed this statement up with data or references. Without that, it really doesn't help me to make up my mind on this subject. Actually, the whole article kind of says "trust me, I'm an expert, and raw milk is BAD, BAD, BAD," without really supporting the argument with facts. That makes it sound more fear-mongering than persuasive. I'm undecided about drinking raw milk, and this article didn't help me decide.
What a bizarre set of comments, Just because you drank raw milk and it didn't make you sick, does not mean that there aren't people out there who are highly susceptible to infection by these particularly nasty infections, to the point that it could kill them. With all due respect, you aren't being TOLD what you can and can't eat, you are being INFORMED of where higher risk lies. Make your own decision, based on information provided to you.
Where are the statistics? You need to give actual examples of people who have had these events happen from drinking raw milk --- I see nothing to support your findings! Also, what are the ratios!-- Just bought a carton of milk whose expiration date was 2/14/11 - on 2/9/11 it was soured -- hmmm!
If raw milk is so dangerous, why do so many dairy-farming families drink milk from the bulk tank their whole lives? Every family-sized dairy farm I've been to served raw milk on a regular basis to the whole family. If they can and will do it (legally, even), how can it be unsafe for me and my family?
Great article. I also was a vet who spent a lot of time at dairy farms. I also worked at a dairy farm as a student. I then went-on to work at a public health agency. I also saw how easily milk can become contaminated despite everyone's best effort. Example....it is routine for a milking claw to fall-off a cow and suck-up dirty water. Bottom-line.... Although it is probably true that the chances of getting seriously sick from drinking raw milk are probably small. There IS a chance. I myself would never risk the health and well-being of my children given what I know. The above said... we live in a free country. As long as people understand the risks... they can make decisions for themselves.