Is It Safe to Drink Raw Milk?

Is It Safe To Drink Raw Milk-

In late September, 38 football high school football players from a town not far from my own, became ill with a gastrointestinal illness, and it soon spread to 55 other students in the school. Due to the high number of ill students the State Health Department was brought in to investigate. The investigation found that the students had a bacteria that is commonly found in unpasteurized milk. They also discovered that all of the ill football players had consumed raw milk at a team dinner that had been brought by one of the players. These findings led them to test the manure from the farm of which the milk had come from. The investigation showed that the manure also tested positive for the campylobactor jejuni bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting. This bacteria can be spread by consuming food contaminated directly or indirectly by animal feces, or by direct contact with a person contaminated who has not adequately washed after using the bathroom.

This outbreak that affected an entire healthy football team, is just one of many outbreaks that are occurring all over the U.S. due to an increase in the consumption of raw milk. Government officials, the FDA and the CDC are warning of the risks of consuming raw milk.

All milk that is sold in stores, both organic and conventional, is pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process in which the milk is brought to a high temperature, and then quickly cooled and bottled. This process reduces the number of viable pathogens so they are not likely to cause disease. However, raw milk is processed in no way, allowing bacteria to freely grow and contaminate the milk. This bacteria and pathogens that may be contaminating milk may include, but are certainly not limited to E.coli, listeria, and salmonella.

 

No matter how clean and sanitary the farm from which the milk comes from; milk comes from cows and cows are animals, and animals are dirty. They can’t wipe their tails and wash their hooves after going to the bathroom, and don’t care that they just laid in the cow pie that they just made. This article is not meant to be used as a scare tactic for anyone, nor am I trying to push raw, organic or conventional milk, I am sincerely writing this to inform consumers of the risks that are involved with the choices that they make. However, with the rise of raw milk consumption and even a push to replace baby formula with raw milk, I felt that some facts were needed to properly inform consumers:

  • According to the CDC, improperly handled raw milk is responsible for nearly 3 times more hospitalizations than any other food-born illness, making it the most dangerous food product.
  • Both the CDC and FDA state that raw milk is unsafe to drink.
  • The sale of raw milk is prohibited in 33 states in the U.S., including my home state of Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland.
  • Distribution of raw milk is illegal in both Scotland and Australia, and the sale of it is illegal in all of Canada.
  • In Germany, raw milk is allowed, however it is so highly regulated that only 80 farmers nation-wide distribute raw milk.
  • Even pasteurized milk that has been shipped from mainland U.S. is re-pasteurized once it reaches Hawaii to ensure that the milk is safe to drink.

All food in the U.S. in regulated in some way for the safety of the public. Thus being said, when something has been proven to be safe, it really is safe. However when something has been proven to be harmful, heed the warning and listen to health officials’ recommendations for your own safety and the safety of others.

*Update: On February 19, 2015, as a result of this farm distributing raw milk to the local football team, they have had their Grade A permit revoked for 30 days, and will be under strict guidelines for the next three years. They are still able to sell their milk for butter and cheese production, but not for drinking purposes. It is illegal to distribute raw milk in the State of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin’s Departments of Agriculture and Health Services feel that this appropriate action as a result of the farms violations of the states statues and rules.

For more information, please visit:

CDC – Raw Milk Questions & Answers
Real Raw Milk Facts – Regulations

Ask the Farmers Administrator note: We feel it’s important to share the risks of consuming raw milk but realize it is a very personal decision whether or not you consumer raw milk.

About Bekah Gustafson

I am a farmer's wife, a mom to three beautiful little girls. My faith is most important to me, but I also love everything about John Deere, horses and quilting.

Comments

  1. It is interesting to note that you have not mentioned the chicken Alfredo served at this partiicular event. It arrived undercooked, the temperature was not in the safe zone and it was not heated enough to stop the horrible illness outbreak. Raw milk is no more riSky than pasteurized when handled correctly!

    • Thank you Pat for bringing this up. In this case both the chicken and milk were tested, and it was the milk that was found to have the bacteria in it that caused the illness. According to both the FDA and CDC, raw milk is significantly more risky that pasteurized milk, and that is why it is illegal to distribute in the state of Wisconsin. Anytime you consume any sort of raw food, whether it be meat, milk or produce, you run a higher risk of contamination. Cooking, or heating food, or in this case pasteurizing kills off bacteria that could be potentially harmful. Once again, thank you for bringing up another point, that all food should be prepared to a safe standard.

  2. Angie Barton says:

    In our state (Washington), one can become certified to sell raw milk, which we have done. Through the process of working with the WSDA, I learned about the types of bacteria that can contaminate raw milk and how to reduce the risk. Contamination is still possible and the results can be deadly to the youngest and oldest people due to the four pathogens mentioned in the above article.
    Since that particular campylobacter strain (which is similar to a fingerprint) was traced back to the farm in question, there really is no question that the milk was indeed the contaminate.
    It is VERY important to understand the risks in both consuming and producing raw milk so one can make an informed choice and reduce risk. Having said that, we as a small raw dairy are confident that we are doing what we need to do to provide the safest raw milk possible, but I do tell people that pasteurized milk is THE safest and I let them know the very real dangers. Angie at Douglas Falls Creamery

  3. Michelle Schilter says:

    Please, please, please never consume raw milk. I live in a state that permits licensed raw milk dairies to sell to the public. So, if you insist on consuming this product, only buy from a licensed operation. As a dairy farmer in Washington state, I pray no one ever gets sick from consuming raw milk from a licensed raw milk dairy. It will hurt the entire industry. At the end of the day, milk is milk. If someone gets sick or dies, it will not matter what type of milk it is. All the consumer and public will remember is it was milk. To date, there is no evidence to prove raw milk provides anything better or different than conventional milk. I have a son diagnosed with autism. If I thought there was any way to “cure” his autism with raw milk, you better believe I would try it.

  4. Please check your facts – I realize you are in Wisconsin, but your audience is greater. Raw milk can in fact be purchased from the grocery store in Washington State, and off the top of my head Arizona and Nevada as well. Every state has different rules and regulations, a quick internet search indicates that incidental ON FARM sales of raw milk ARE allowed in Wisconsin, but distribution and retail sales are not allowed.

    • Thank you Trish for clarifying. We just want to inform our readers that there are risks associated with drinking raw milk, and we would like our readers to make an informed decision before consuming it. One of our fellow farmers, Angie, also wanted to add, “Raw milk contaminated with dangerous pathogens WILL NOT taste bad; it’s contaminated from the beginning, so it’s crucial to understand the risks and know your producer.”

  5. [“No matter how clean and sanitary the farm from which the milk comes from; milk comes from cows and cows are animals, and animals are dirty. They can’t wipe their tails and wash their hooves after going to the bathroom, and don’t care that they just laid in the cow pie that they just made.”]

    Ignorant statement at best. I milk dairy goats daily and consume their milk daily. Raw! Last time I checked cow’s use neither their tail or hooves when eliminating waste. Do they kick and swish at their udder surely. Udders and teats are pre-washed, washed and post washed. The teats are covered with the claw during a milking cycle. As for laying down in manure, surely they do but not during a milking cycle. I am only speaking to this part of your blog.

    We have folks that buy our milk and consume it raw. They are sternly warned about consuming raw milk. It’s their choice. They understand the risks. We practice safe and clean milking but there is always a risk. From feces, not a chance here! We are small.

Trackbacks

  1. […] For more on raw milk & food safety, check out these posts from Food Insight, Midwest Dairy Association & Ask the Farmers. […]

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