If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it has health benefits, consider other options. Raw milk can contain harmful germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can make you very sick, or even kill you or a loved one.
Developing a healthy lifestyle involves making many decisions about what you eat and drink. Raw milk is milk from any animal that has not been pasteurized (heated to a specific temperature for a set amount of time) to kill harmful germs that may be in it. Because these germs usually don’t change the look, taste, or smell of milk, pasteurization is the best way to make sure your milk is safe.
Can raw milk hurt me or my family?
Yes. Raw milk can carry harmful germs that can make you very sick or even kill you. These germs include Brucella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.
Getting sick from raw milk can mean many days of diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. Less commonly, it can lead to severe or even life-threatening illness, including Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure, stroke, and even death.
Who has a greater chance of getting sick from drinking raw milk or eating products made from raw milk, such as cheese, ice cream, and yogurt?
The chance of getting sick from drinking raw milk is greater for infants and young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems (such as people with cancer, an organ transplant, or HIV), than for healthy adults. However, healthy people of any age can get very sick or even die if they drink raw milk contaminated with harmful germs.
What can I do to lower my chances of getting sick from milk and milk products?
Choose pasteurized milk and milk products. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label. If in doubt, don’t buy it!
If you eat soft cheeses, make sure they are made from pasteurized milk. Soft cheeses include queso fresco, queso blanco, panela (queso panela), brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and feta.
Keep milk and milk products refrigerated at 40°F or colder, and throw away any expired milk or milk products to lower your chance of getting sick.
Are raw or natural foods better than processed foods?
Many people believe that foods with little or no processing are better for their health. However, some types of processing are needed to protect our health. We make raw meat, poultry, and fish safe to eat by cooking. We make milk safe by pasteurizing it—heating it just long enough to kill disease-causing germs. Most nutrients remain in milk after it is pasteurized.
What are good sources of beneficial bacteria?
If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it is a good source of beneficial bacteria, you need to know that you may instead get sick from drinking it. Consider choosing pasteurized fermented foods, such as kombucha, yogurt, and kefir, that contain beneficial bacteria without the risk of illness linked to germs in raw milk.
Can I get sick from raw milk and raw milk products if the animals are healthy, clean, and grass-fed, or if the dairy is especially careful and clean when collecting the milk?
Yes. Heathy animals may carry germs that can make people sick. Following good hygiene during milking can reduce the chance of contamination but does not eliminate it. When milk is not pasteurized to kill germs that may have gotten into it during collection, transport, storage, or processing, it can make people sick. Methods for safely collecting milk have improved over the years but cannot be relied on alone to make milk safe.
Likewise, raw milk from certified, organic, or local farms and dairies is not guaranteed to be safe. Only pasteurization can make milk safe. Many small farms and dairies offer pasteurized organic milk and products made from it.
My dairy farmer performs laboratory tests for germs in raw milk, so isn’t it safe?
Tests that don’t find germs in raw milk are still not a guarantee that raw milk is safe to drink. Tests do not always detect low levels of contamination, and germs can multiply and grow in milk between the time it’s collected and when someone drinks it. People have become very sick from drinking raw milk from farms that regularly tested their milk and whose owners said they were sure that their milk was safe.
How many outbreaks have been related to raw milk?
From 2007 through 2016, 32 states reported 144 outbreaks linked to raw milk. Reported outbreaks represent the tip of the iceberg. Most foodborne illnesses are not part of a recognized outbreak, and for every outbreak and every illness reported, many others occur.
Where do most raw milk-related outbreaks happen?
Raw milk-related outbreaks are more common in states that allow the legal sale of raw milk for people to drink than in states that do not allow its sale.
Who is most affected by raw milk and raw milk product outbreaks?
Many raw milk and raw milk product outbreaks involve children. At least one child younger than 5 was involved in 46% of the raw milk and raw milk product outbreaks reported to CDC from 2007 through 2016. In these outbreaks, 19% of the illnesses caused by Salmonella and 15% caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (such as O157) were among children aged 1–4 years.
Protect yourself and your loved ones. Avoid raw milk – it’s just not worth the risk.