April 2014
Homeplace & Community


Consuming Raw Milk Deserves Informed Decision Making

As a regional Extension agent in Food Safety, I get several calls a month on the safety of drinking raw cow or goat milk so I felt it really necessary to do an article on this. My sources were from Dr. Jean Weese, our food safety specialist at Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and the Center for Disease Control. There are many video-taped personal stories available on the CDC website (http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-videos.html) to watch about people who have gotten sick or whose children have been very sickened from drinking raw cow or goat milk. The danger is very real and much research needs to be done before making the decision to drink or give to your young child, whose immune system cannot fight off the type of bacteria that might be lurking in raw milk. Please, as a parent, make the most informed decision possible before giving your young child raw milk.

"It is important to know that milk can be a very efficient home for bacteria and other germs," Weese stated.

When milk is pasteurized, some bacteria remain in it, but the disease-causing ones are killed. With milk being pasteurized so quickly and then cooled down even quicker, there is very little change in the nutrition value. The bad bacteria far outweigh the good bacteria in raw milk.

"Back to nature" - that’s what many Americans are trying to do with the foods they buy and eat. They are shopping at farmers’ markets, picking organic foods at their grocery stores, participating in food cooperatives (or co-ops), and some are even growing their own food. Many people are trying to eat foods produced with minimal processing.

However, milk and milk products (including certain cheeses, ice creams and yogurts) are foods that, when consumed raw, can pose severe health risks. Milk and milk products need minimal processing, called pasteurization, which can be done by heating the milk briefly (for example heating it to 161 degrees for about 20 seconds), to kill disease-causing germs (e.g., Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter) that can be found in raw milk.

Before the invention and acceptance of pasteurization, raw milk was a common source of the bacteria causing tuberculosis, diphtheria, severe streptococcal infections, typhoid fever and other foodborne illnesses. These illnesses killed many people each year, especially young children. In the 1900s, many mothers recognized this risk and would boil milk (bringing it to a temperature of 212 degrees) before giving it to their infants and young children.

Many studies have shown that pasteurization does not significantly change the nutritional value of milk – pasteurized milk is rich in proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients. Heat slightly affects a few of the vitamins found in milk - thiamine, vitamin B12 and vitamin C, but milk is only a minor source of these vitamins.

Please go to the CDC website and read all about how to make the best decision about drinking raw milk and how the danger outweighs the benefits that a lot of people are thinking they gain from not pasteurizing milk. It is against the law in Alabama to sell raw milk of any kind for human consumption. Here is the website: www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-index.html.

For information on upcoming programs and food safety issues you may have, please visit our website at www.aces.edu or contact your local county Extension office and ask to talk with one of our food safety/preservation/preparation regional agents.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.