Once considered a staple of the American diet, even milk is coming under fire from consumers questioning the healthfulness of processed and packaged foods. Shoppers looking for alternatives to regular pasteurized milk are increasingly turning to raw milk produced by cows, goats and sheep. However, raw milk consumption isn’t without its risks.
Raw milk is milk that has not undergone pasteurization before being sold to consumers. Currently, the CDC estimates that less than 1% of milk for sale in the United States is raw, largely produced by small dairy operations. Laws on raw milk sales vary from state to state, with some states outlawing it completely.
In a word, yes. Pasteurization uses heat to kill bacteria in milk that could be harmful to the consumer. Raw milk that has not been pasteurized can contain bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, as well as parasites or viruses. These bacteria and germs can cause severe illnesses, such as E. coli and even death. According to the CDC, raw milk is 150 times more likely than pasteurized milk to cause foodborne illnesses.
Sickness from raw milk is most common among children, elderly people and those with weakened immune systems. Although raw milk consumption can be risky, some people’s immune systems are strong enough to ward off these harmful bacteria.
Raw milk contains some nutrients and enzymes that would otherwise be killed by the pasteurization process, although the CDC claims the nutritional difference between pasteurized and raw milk is negligible.
Advocates of raw milk tout it as a wonder product that not only tastes better and is creamier than regular milk, but can also cure everything from allergies to asthma to eczema in both children and adults. However, scientific evidence to back up these claims is scant, and the consumption of raw milk, particularly among children, remains highly controversial.
Probably. Government entities like the FDA don’t promote the consumption of raw milk due to its health risks, so it’s unlikely to be regulated on a national level anytime soon. However, dairies that focus on the production of raw milk are stepping up to endorse the establishment of testing and safety regulations. Organizations like the Raw Milk Institute aim to be both a facilitator of best practices when it comes to raw milk production and a credible resource for consumers seeking safe raw milk that they can purchase.