Got (raw) milk, again?

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

I wrote about this once before, and in retrospect I wimped out. Let me be more clear this time: drinking raw milk is a bad idea.

The Consumer Health Digest is a weekly email newsletter I highly recommend as an excellent source of news about important health topics, health quackery, and consumer health issues. From this week’s update:

Another raw milk warning issued.

The FDA and several state agencies are alerting consumers to an outbreak of campylobacteriosis associated with drinking raw milk that originated from the Forest Grove Dairy in Middlebury, Indiana.

At least 12 confirmed cases were reported in Michigan. Raw milk is unpasteurized milk from hoofed mammals, such as cows, sheep, or goats. Since 1987, the FDA has required all milk  packaged for human consumption to be pasteurized before being delivered for introduction into interstate commerce. Pasteurization heats milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time and kills harmful bacteria, such as listeriosis, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria and brucellosis. FDA’s pasteurization requirement also applies to other milk products, with the exception of a few aged cheeses. From 1998 to 2008, 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from raw milk consumption were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These outbreaks included a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. Proponents often claim that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk and is inherently antimicrobial, thus making pasteurization unnecessary. These claims, however, are false.

[Barrett S. Why raw milk should be avoided. Quackwatch, Dec 22, 2003]

There are no health benefits to consuming raw milk, and clearly there can be dire consequences. Just say “no” to raw, unpasteurized milk.

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8 Comments on “Got (raw) milk, again?”

  1. James Says:

    Personally, we just drink plain boring cows milk but so many friends claim goats milk (it is pasteurized) is better for their children. Any thoughts?


  2. Jenny Says:

    I know that raw food can be a hot topic, and I do believe that pasteurization has made food much safer. However,I must point out that just because food has been pasteurized does not mean that it is always safe. While raw milk does carry a larger risk of harboring unsavory microorganisms, many people have gotten ill from milk that has been pasteurized. I did not see any statistics posted in this that showed how many people have gotten ill from regular milk in the same time period.


  3. Dr. Roy Says:

    James, there are no special health benefits to goat milk, but there sure are a lot of rabid-crazy sites promoting the stuff. It is particularly deficient in folate (though you can get this from plenty of other things).

    There may be some with specific cow-milk-protein allergies who could probably tolerate goat milk, but it’s quite expensive, and plenty of other nutritious substitutes abound. I’ve wondered before why some families seem so fond of goat milk– I think it’s because the high price means it must be “premium”. There’s powerful psychology that tells all of us if we spend more on something, it must be better.


  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Jenny, certainly pasteurization doesn’t guarantee that any food is safe, but it is an important layer of protection. For milk, proper collection, transport, and storage is very important– though pasteurized milk left on a countertop for two days is unlikely to make you sick, it won’t taste very good.

    I could not find any statistics similar to what you asked for– how many people have gotten sick from pasteurized milk. It wouldn’t be a fair comparison anyway, as pasteurized milk consumption is so much more common than raw milk consumption. You’d need to know exactly how much raw v. pasteurized milk is being consumed to determine an incidence rate per gallon consumed. This would be difficult to determine, especially in the many states where sale of “raw” milk for human consumption is illegal (yet obviously still occurs.)

    Clearly, consumption of unpasteurized milk carries additional risks, and these risks are not balanced by any evidence that there are special benefits to raw milk. Why take the extra risk?


  5. Jenny Says:

    I’m fully aware of the difficulties comparing pasteurized vs. raw. The statistics you posted did not give percentages, p-values or any analysis, just the number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. It was not analyzed for its significance, just a statement of raw numbers. For all we know this is not a significant value of those who consume raw milk. We don’t know because as you have said it is hard to determine the total # of people consuming raw milk.

    It shouldn’t be hard to determine the # of illnesses of people who drank regular milk over the same period of time, it’s just not published in one easy place to find (I’ve looked). The number as raw data may look even scarier than the raw milk number if not put in perspective.

    Personally I don’t drink raw milk and I haven’t given it to my child, he won’t even drink regular milk. Not that I blame him. I’m just playing devil’s advocate.


  6. Mike Says:

    Break out in Pennsylvania- not sure if its related to your case but here is the article.


  7. Dr. Roy Says:

    Babies less than a year should drink mother’s milk, or a commercial formula designed for their needs. Feeding unprocessed milk to a young baby can be disastrous. In this case report, unprocessed goat’s milk was fed to a 7 m/o exclusively: It nearly killed him, causing multiple strokes. He’ll suffer from his parent’s misguided feeding practices for the rest of his life.


  8. Elias Says:

    I don’t know about milk in America. Here in Africa our animals eat natural grass and other vegetation, walking aroud freely all day. We grew up drinking milk straight from cows, goats, etc. Your animals are not fed in a natural way so maybe that’s where the difference is.


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