A great deal of controversy exists between drinking raw and pasteurized milk. Proponents of pasteurized milk say that it's safer and that raw milk can cause serious illness. Raw milk advocates say that raw milk is safe and better for your health and that pasteurization destroys vital nutrients in milk.
Pasteurization has been used for over 120 years. The process involves heating milk to destroy any potentially dangerous pathogens that may cause illness. The most common method of pasteurization used today in the United States, known as high temperature short time pasteurization, heats milk to a temperature of 161 degrees F for at least 15 seconds. Another common method known as ultra-pasteurization heats milk to 180 degrees F for two seconds. This methods essentially sterilizes milk so that it does not need to be refrigerated until opened and it greatly extends shelf life.
Raw Milk Advocates
A Campaign For Real Milk, a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, advocates pasture fed, unprocessed, full-fat milk, noting that raw milk produced under sanitary conditions is a safe and healthy food. The campaign contends that the heat of pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization deactivate many components of milk that strengthen the immune system, kill pathogens and promote overall health. In addition, the campaign says that raw milk can cure asthma and allergies and that many people diagnosed with lactose intolerance can digest it without problems. Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, notes that the frequency of illnesses from all dairy products, pasteurized or raw, is very low.
Raw Milk Opponents
The Food and Drug Administration has a firm stance on raw milk and all other dairy products produced from raw milk: they are a serious health risk. According to the FDA, raw milk can carry strains of bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria which can lead to illnesses that cause vomiting, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms, which in severe cases can be life threatening. The agency also notes that, contrary to popular belief, pasteurization does not causes lactose intolerance or reduces milk's nutritional value.
Making a Decision
While raw milk does have the potential to cause illness, if not handled correctly, the risk associated with raw dairy products is very low. In fact, a 2003 risk assessment by the FDA documents a much higher per serving risk for deli meats than raw milk, for a common food-borne illness. Laws on the sale of raw milk vary from state to state; some states allow retail sale, while others only allow farm-to-consumer sales; and in a few states the sale of raw milk is illegal. In the end, you must weigh the pro and cons and decide for yourself whether raw or pasteurized milk is right for you.
- Food and Drug Administration: The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk
- International Dairy Foods Association: Pasteurization: Definition and Methods
- A Campaign For Real Milk: The Facts About Raw Milk
- The Weston A Price Foundation: CDC Cherry Picks Data to Make Case Against Raw Milk
- Food and Drug Administration: Listeria Monocytogenes Risk Assessment: Interpretive Summary
- Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund: State-by-State Review of Raw Milk Laws