Is raw milk safe for my family?

Is raw milk safe for my family?

The answer is a resounding “no.” Raw milk has not gone through a process called pasteurization. Pasteurization became popular in the 1930’s when scientists discovered that heating milk to a certain temperature for a specified length of time would kill the harmful bacteria in raw milk and that bacteria was responsible for many illnesses and deaths. There are four main types of bacteria found in unpasteurized milk.  Below is a table outlining these bacteria with their potential side effects.

Bacteria name:Common Symptoms and Side Effects:
E Coli Causes painful, bloody diarrhea for 5-10 days. It can progress to hemolytic anemia or kidney failure. Young children are especially susceptible to develop hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) which can cause hospitalization, kidney failure, and may potentially be fatal.

Campylobacter Causes bloody diarrhea for 2-10 days. Rare cases can cause Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) which may cause paralysis and require hospitalization in an intensive care unit.

Salmonella Causes diarrhea, cramps, and fever for 4-7 days. Infants and young children are susceptible to having a severe illness that requires hospitalization.
Listeria Especially dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause miscarriage and stillbirth. Infants are at risk for developing bacterial meningitis from listeria. It can also cause sepsis and febrile gastroenteritis.

 Who is most likely to get sick from raw milk?

Unfortunately, the majority of victims from raw milk are under 20 years of age. Infants and children are much more likely to get sick and develop serious, life-threatening illnesses that require hospitalizations. Pregnant women and elderly people are also more likely to get sick than healthy adults. Infant’s and children’s immune systems are not fully developed to protect them from the bacteria.

But haven’t people been drinking raw milk for years and years? And my grandfather grew up on raw milk and he was never sick…

Many people have forgotten the dangers associated with “the golden days.” In 1900, the infant mortality rate was 175 babies for every 1000 born. Today, that number has decreased to 7 for every 1000 births. Also, the life expectancy has increased to 76 years of age in 2000 from 47 in 1900. There have been many medical advances over the past 100 years that have contributed to this improvement, one of which has been the routine pasteurization of milk. In the past, bacteria from raw milk was a contributing factor to tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid fever, and many more illnesses. Even as early as 1900 (30 years before the benefits of heating milk was officially recognized by scientists) mothers were instructed to boil the milk given to their infants and young children. They knew it was dangerous and that children were more likely to be affected that the other members of their family. Modern science has officially confirmed what these mothers already knew.

Also, as stated previously, the youngest family members are more likely to be affected than the adults. So while Pawpaw might have been fit as a fiddle from the ages of 20-65, his mother might have known another child in the community who died an early death or experienced a severe illness. That could have very well been a result of raw milk.

Does pasteurization kill the “good” part of milk and affect nutrients?

Pasteurization can affect some of the good live cultures when it kills the bad bacteria. But if you are concerned about your child’s intake of healthy live cultures from probiotics, it would be much safer to offer pasteurized yogurt, kefir, or even an added probiotic such as Culturelle.

Pasteurization may cause a small loss (less than 10%) of thiamin and vitamin B12 in milk. However, even pasteurized milk is still considered a good source for these B vitamins because it is so high in thiamin and B12 to begin with. There may also be a decrease in vitamin C. But milk is not a good source of vitamin C compared to other, easily accessible, foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, and greens. The small reduction of these nutrients is not worth the risk of contracting a dangerous bacteria, especially since these nutrients can be readily accessed elsewhere.

There have been reports recently that drinking raw milk can improve your child’s allergies, asthma and even behavioral problems. There have never been any studies that link the pasteurization process with affecting any of these health issues.

But I trust my farmer to offer me clean, organic raw milk. If I know that the process is sanitary, is it still dangerous?

Yes. Germs are unpredictable and even the cleanest farmer could unknowingly or accidentally contaminate a batch of milk. Also, there is no way to tell if the milk is contaminated until someone gets very sick. The bacteria can live on the skin and udders of goats and cows. They are also prevalent in the barnyard environment, on the clothes and hands of the workers, and other small animals that are commonly found on farms.

Given the very serious, life-threatening illnesses that raw milk can cause, it's just not worth it to offer raw milk.

Want more information?

Here are some reliable websites with more information about raw milk: