Raw milk has gained a lot of popularity recently. There are claims that it tastes better, or is better for you, or can prevent/cure diseases.
Frankly, those claims are not true.
(Okay, it might taste better. I’ll admit that I have never tasted raw milk, so I can’t judge that. Raw milk does have more fat than pasteurized and homogenized milk. And it’s not been homogenized, so if you get the first pour from the pitcher with all the cream, well, I’ll bet that tastes really good.)
But. Regardless of the way raw milk does or does not taste – there’s a very big problem with it.
Remember when I said that all milk contains some bacteria? And that is why milk is pasteurized – to kill the bacteria. And raw milk is not pasteurized.
Some of the bacteria in milk might be things like E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Salmonella. Within each type of bacteria there are lots of “sub-types,” or varieties. Not all varieties of bacteria are dangerous, but some are very dangerous – they can make people very sick, and even lead to death.
Not all milk has these bacteria. The milk from one farm might not have these bacteria for years, and then one day the bacteria can contaminate the farm. Or just one or two cows. But because of the way milk is pooled, milk with bacteria from one cow will contaminate the entire days’ milk from that dairy farm.
I know some dairy farmers who enjoy drinking raw milk right out of their storage tanks. Some of them give this milk to their children. There are two big differences between this and purchasing raw milk at a store or farm stand to drink.
First, these farmers and their children live near their dairy farms. They spend lots of time on the farm and around the dairy cattle. There is a good chance that if there are any “bad” bacteria on their farm they have previously been exposed in small doses, and have built up some natural immunity to the “bad” bacteria. This will help keep them from getting sick if they do drink contaminated raw milk.
Second, remember that milk takes two days to get from the cow to the store. If these farmers are drinking milk from their cows, it is less than one day old. Over time (even less than two days), bacteria multiply. If there are any “bad” bacteria in milk, they usually start out in very low levels. The longer milk is stored (like the two days it takes to get to your store) bacteria can multiply exponentially. What may not have been enough bacteria to get a person sick two days ago, may be enough to get someone very sick today.
People who are the most at-risk for getting sick from contaminated raw milk are infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone who has a compromised immune system. These are the groups of people who will have a harder time fighting off an infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1571 people have gotten sick since 1993 from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from unpasteurized milk. The sad thing is that these could have been prevented by drinking pasteurized milk or eating cheese made from pasteurized milk instead.
Here are some myths and facts about raw milk – along with great explanations.
The sale of raw milk for human consumption in Indiana is illegal (although some people are getting around this by labeling raw milk “for animal use only.” By the way, it’s just as unsafe to feed raw milk to your animals as it is to your family.) Indiana is currently holding a virtual public hearing to gather comments about raw milk sales. You can weigh in at the Indiana Board of Animal Health. Check out this handy map to see if it is legal to sell raw milk in your state.
Do you have more questions? Check out the Food and Drug Administration Consumer site, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention food safety site. Finally, here’s a handy downloadable pdf from Real Raw Milk Facts with some common questions and answers about raw milk.
Do you drink raw milk? Why or why not?