Ask Amelia Nutrition

The Dangers of Raw Milk

raw milk

Maybe you’ve had raw milk, seen it for sale in your local health food store, or know families who swear by it.  But is it healthier than pasteurized milk?  And more importantly, is it safe?

In my opinion, no. (This also happens to be the opinion of the FDA, public health officials, and most dietitians and doctors).  Raw – aka unpasteurized – milk that is produced under extremely clean conditions at a licensed dairy and stored properly until the moment it’s consumed is probably safe.  But determining whether the raw milk you buy and consume has met all of these criteria is nearly impossible.  And the risks you’re taking by assuming it’s safety far outweigh the possible benefits of drinking raw milk.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about raw milk.

What is raw milk?

Milk that has not been pasteurized.

What is pasteurization?

A heating process designed to kill potentially harmful bacteria (like salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 – the most dangerous kind of E.coli) in milk.  Pasteurization also increases the shelf-life of milk because the bacteria in raw milk make it spoil faster.

Does pasteurization make milk safer?

Yes.  Before the FDA began requiring that milk be pasteurized, raw milk accounted for 25% of food and water-borne illness outbreaks.  Now, dairy products account for only about 1% of outbreaks (mostly from raw milk cheeses and improperly stored milk).

Does pasteurization remove the nutrients from milk?

Research shows that pasteurized milk is nutritionally similar to raw milk.  Proponents of raw milk argue that food in it’s most natural form is always more nutritious, and that the heating process makes pasteurized milk less nutritious.  This may be true, but since Americans get a wide variety of nutrients from a wide variety of foods, the benefits of drinking raw milk do not outweigh the risks.

Why is drinking raw milk risky?

Milk that has not been pasteurized can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous food-borne illnesses.  These bacteria are especially dangerous for children, pregnant women, and the elderly, and can lead to hospitalization, kidney failure, and even death.

Why do people drink raw milk?

Some people believe that raw milk tastes sweeter and fresher, and that it’s nutritional properties can help various health conditions.  Farmers who produce raw milk may also feel that it is safe due to their careful attention to cleanliness and safety.

Is it legal to sell/buy raw milk?

Every state is different.  Here’s a map which describes the specific laws in each state.  (Please note: this map is produced by an organization in favor of raw milk consumption).

So should I drink raw milk?

Every person or family needs to make the decision they feel most comfortable with.  Personally, I will not be buying raw milk, and after seeing a friend of mine’s child suffer from E.coli and kidney failure after drinking raw milk, would never give it to a child.  But, this is an individual choice.

**source for image above**

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  • Liz DeBord
    September 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Those cows look mean! Thanks for this post… I’ve had some friends rave about raw milk and I was always skeptical.

  • kari
    September 6, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for keeping me informed. There is a raw milk stand at my local farmers’ market and i’ve always wondered why, if raw milk is so much better (opinion of the people working the stand), that it’s not more mainstream or popular? I guess the reason lies in the risks involved with consuming raw milk.

  • colleen
    November 21, 2011 at 12:08 am

    This article is replete with inaccuracies. Either the author is completely misinformed or working as a publicist for supermarket brand, factory farmed dairy industry.

    100% of Omega 3, enzymes and probiotics is completely destroyed with pasturization. The reason why so many folks have lactose intolerance and casein allergies is solely due to pasturized dairy. When people switch to grass fed, pastured raw dairy, they lose allergies to milk products. Factory Farmed CAFO dairy is from cows fed genetically engineered corn/soy. Cows are ruminants who need to eat GRASS. Feeding cows corn and soy causes auto-immune disorders, cancer, mastitis and high E coli count in their milk. The rules for raw milk are incredibly strict.

    Bottom Line – the USDA recently did a recall on Organic Pastures in Stockton California – 100% of lab tests proved conclusively there was ZERO contamination of their raw milk.

    check out

    I’m 57 and have been consuming raw, fermented dairy products for decades with no adverse affects. The crap sold in supermarkets is not fit for human consumption. Because the FDA and USDA refuses to LABEL genetically engineered foods most Americans do not realize they are eating GMO dairy products and meat.

    Raw milk dairy ranchers have small herds which means far less e coli contammination than on CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation Factory Farm operations. I live in Sacramento and have driven down Highway 5 – when you get to Visalia the stench of CAFO factory farmed feedlots is enough to make you sick to your stomach. Cows are standing knee deep in their own feces. The cows must be fed tranquilizers to prevent cannibalism, stampede and failure to reproduce.

    In contrast, raw milk dairy ranchers have small herds, which roam freely in open pastures, eating grass in the sunshine. The cows sleep in a barn to protect them from the elements. Have you ever seen footage of feedlot dairy barns? Several hundred cows in very close quarters hooked up to milking machines – they stand in their tiny stall all day long like slaves. Do you really want to eat dairy from a cow slave?

    Doesn’t it make more sense to eat grass fed, pastured dairy from raw milk cows in small herds raised by family farmers?

    google Eat Wild – great source of pastured, grass fed animal protein!

    Not only do I not eat pasturized dairy products, I don’t eat roasted nuts and seeds. Heating nuts and sseds destroys Omega 3. I poach my pastured eggs and eat the white fully cooked, but always eat the yolk raw. Because I only eat pastured ORGANIC eggs, I never had any problem with E coli. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and no adverse reactions.

    colleen whalen
    eco-gastronomy educator

  • Amelia
    February 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    Hi Colleen. I agree that in an ideal world, raw milk is the most nutritious. Unfortunately unless you are a farmer who produces raw milk in laboratory clean conditions and has extensive knowledge about food safety, you can’t be sure what how your raw milk was produced and if it’s safe. The odds that someone would get sick are very low, but the sickness can be so serious, it’s probably not worth the small risk.

    The fact that you “have been doing this your whole life” hardly counts as proven scientific research.

  • Amelia
    February 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    p.s. I am completely in favor of buying dairy products that come from well-treated, pasture-raised animals. This is what I do and recommend to anyone who can afford it.

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