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The vast majority of cow’s milk sold in America today has been pasteurized, or treated with heat to kill bacteria and contaminants. In recent years, however, raw milk, or unpasteurized milk, has surged in popularity. Raw milk proponents argue that pasteurizing milk destroys essential proteins and enzymes, while raw milk is a complete food with all of its healthful nutrients intact and available.

Researchers, however, have been unable to prove that raw milk has any health benefits over pasteurized milk. Despite this, a number of raw milk advocates continue to push for more research into the benefits of raw milk, particularly from cows, goats, and sheep. Numerous sources claim that raw milk can help treat everything from allergies to autoimmune disorders to lactose intolerance. None of these claims have been proven by reliable medical studies.

While there is no nutritional risk in consuming raw milk, there is a risk of contracting a foodborne illness, including E. coli, salmonella, and Listeria. A foodborne illness can cause severe GI upset, including vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Even worse, these bacteria can be extremely dangerous, or even life threatening to people who have weakened immune systems.

Because of this risk, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Health Canada all urge against consumption of raw milk, particularly by pregnant women and newborns. The CDC reports that in the US from 2000-2009, consumption of raw milk products “resulted in 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and two deaths.” Of the reported cases, 79 percent involved children and teenagers. Experts suspect that the number of reported cases is a small fraction of those that occur.

Whether or not you are able to purchase raw milk depends on where you live. In some states, you can only buy raw milk directly from the farm where it’s produced. Nationally, the FDA has banned the sale of raw milk across state lines.

Takeaways

  • Raw milk is milk produced by cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that has not been pasteurized—or heated—to kill bacteria.
  • Pasteurized milk has virtually the same nutritional value as raw milk.
  • While nutritional value is virtually the same, there is risk of contracting a foodborne illness.
  • The FDA and CDC recommend pregnant women and newborns steer clear of raw milk.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws—United States, 1993–2006.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk, Food Facts.
  3. Food Poisoning Bulletin. Organic Pastures Outbreak Is Fifth Raw Milk Outbreak This Year.

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