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).
My neice from Kansas drank raw milk as did her mother and son, my neice devloped camphlo-bactor (not sure of the spelling) and had to spend a week in the hospital, they told her she may have issues later in life because of this. She thought she had the flu,and tried to wait it out, the day they went to the Dr. she had to crawl to the bathroom because her head hurt so badly and she was so weak. The Dr. put her straight in the hospital.
Have you ever accepted monies from large agribusiness companies in any capacity?
Isn't it amazing that millions of us grew up drinking raw milk and survived. And the taste, the butter, the yogurt all of it made it totally great (inspite of the risks...but we didn't know there were any risks, maybe that is why we survived)
This is a really helpful article. I've been seeing more and more coverage on how raw milk is the new trend, but not much on the downsides. I'd been wondering if there were the same issues with raw milk products. Thanks for answering them before I even had to ask!
my husband is a third generation dairy farmer, he was raised on raw milk, our 3 children were all raised on raw milk. When our children were babies and ready to come off formula I asked their doctor if I could put them on the raw milk. He said that was fine, the bacteria is picked up when it hits the air and if I took it from the bulk tank to my refrigerator that would be fine. So my 3 children have been on raw milk since they were 3months old and without and sicknesses, and that was in the 60's and 70's. My grandchildren even drink the raw milk as my son now milks cows. There are all kinds of people and some maybe cannot handle raw milk like anything else. I don't think it's the milk that needs to get the bad rap.
How about yall just focus on the deadly e.coli and other pathogen outbreaks in the supposedly "safe" pasteurized food supply you tout so highly (factory farm eggs, anyone?) and leave me to my raw milk, if I so desire? Thanks.
How about an article titled, "Raw Spinach -- it's Not Worth the Risk"? Or any other food that has a worse safety record than raw milk?
The only thing "dangerous" is articles such as this one! Raw milk is safe, highly nutritious, and delicious. It has all the living enzymes missing from pasteurized ("dead") milk from the local grocery store, making it easier for many more people to drink, who can't handle the "other" milk. Government agencies should back off of the wonderful farmers who supply us with these healthy, natural products! We don't need this kind of "protection", or any more government regulation--which usually "regulates" natural, healthy foods while ignoring the dangers quite obviously present in so many of the mainstream grocery store items.
This tragic misinformation does not allow for the higher standards of one to three cow barns that not only take state recommended steps for cleanliness and cattle care, but go above and beyond to ensure the safety of their milk. It is irresponsible to make this the only word on milk safety and in my mind equivalent to saying that we must all stay indoors as there are bees that "might" sting you outside.
I don't know. The raw milk advocates show the research to back up their claims. I have worked for 3 federal agencies and I Do Not trust anything the government says it's word! Immediate health risk are not "safer" then long term health risk.