Friday, January 9, 2009

Is Raw Milk Safe?

Here is a topic today that may give a few people pause. There seems to be a lot of misinformation about raw milk as evidenced by a recent comment from a friend of mine. The topic of me purchasing raw milk for the last year came up and she asked me, "Don't you guys get sick from that?" I have to interject a little humor here - would I really purchase something and require my family to consume it if it made us sick?? I know I'm a nut, but cut me a little slack. :)

You might wonder what exactly raw milk is? Well it's simply milk straight from a cow or goat that hasn't gone through the pasteurization process. It's usually purchased fresh from a local farmer. I started purchasing raw goat's milk from a local farmer about a year ago and will soon change to raw cow's milk from another local farmer. The goats and cows are pastured as much as possible and fed pesticide-free grain when supplemented.

There has been a lot of negative press about raw milk and the public perception is that you will contract horrible diseases like listeria if you consume milk raw. Let me give you some interesting information about the safety of raw milk.

Raw milk has built in protective systems, most of which are destroyed during pasteurization
  • Raw milk contains lactoperoxidase which uses small amounts of H2O2 and free radicals to seek out and destroy bacteria. Interestingly other countries are looking at using lactoperoxidase instead of pasteurization to ensure the safety of commercial milk as well as for preserving other foods.

  • Raw milk contains lactoferrin which steals iron away from pathogens and carries it through the gut wall into the blood stream and uses it to stimulate the immune system. Lactoferrin will kill a wide range of pathogens but does not kill beneficial gut bacteria. In fact, in a study involving mice bred to be susceptible to tuberculosis, treatment with lactoferrin significantly reduced the burden of tuberculosis organisms.

  • Raw milk contains B-lymphocytes which kill foreign bacteria and call in other parts of the immune system for support.

  • Raw milk contains macrophages which engulf foreign proteins and bacteria.

  • Raw milk contains neutrophils which kill infected cells and mobilize other parts of the immune system.

  • Raw milk contains T-lymphocytes that will multiply if bad bacteria are present and produce immune-strengthening compounds.

  • Raw milk contains Immunoglobulins (IgM, IgA, IgG1, IgG2) which transfer immunity. This is especially helpful if you purchase milk from a local source as the cow/goat will build immunities to local bacteria, virus, and allergens which will then be passed through the milk.

  • Raw milk contains antibodies which bind to foreign microbes to prevent them from migrating outside the gut and initiate immune response.

  • Raw milk contains polysaccharides which encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut and protect the gut wall.

  • Raw milk contains oligosaccharides which protect other components from being destroyed by stomach acids and enzymes; bind to bacteria and prevent them from attaching to the gut lining; and other functions just being discovered.

  • Raw milk contains medium-chain fatty acids and enzymes which disrupt cell walls of bad bacteria.

  • Raw milk contains hormones and growth factors (natural ones - not the added synthetic kind) which stimulate maturation of gut cells and prevent leaky gut.

  • Raw milk contains mucins which adhere to bacteria and viruses, preventing those organisms from attaching to the mucosa and causing disease.

  • Raw milk contains fibronectin which increases anti-microbial activity of macrophages and helps to repair damaged tissues.

  • Raw milk contains glycomacropeptide which inhibits bacterial/viral adhesion, suppresses gastric secretion, and promotes bifido-bacterial growth.

  • Raw milk contains B12 binding protein which reduces vitamin B12 in the colon which harmful bacteria need for growth.

  • Raw milk contains bifidus factor which promotes the growth of Lactobacillus bifidus, a helpful bacteria which helps crowd out dangerous germs.

  • Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria like Lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria which crowd out bad bacteria and produce lactic acid that kills bad bacteria.

Whew! Sorry about that! That was way too much information and I almost didn't include everything, but I really want to impress upon you what raw milk contains that contributes to it's safety. Not only do all of these components protect the milk and make it safe for drinking, but all these components are added to your body through drinking the milk. This gives your own immune system a huge boost.

Here's the bad news. When milk is pasteurized most of these components are completely inactivated and those that remain are greatly reduced in their capacity to fight bacteria. Studies as early as 1938 showed that heating milk actually supports the growth of harmful bacteria by inactivating "inhibins" (factors that inhibit bacterial growth).

Raw milk is often blamed for causing infections with dangerous ornganisms. One such organism is Listeria monocytogenes which is a deadly food pathogen that can cause severe illness, fetal death, premature birth or neonatal illness and death. A 2003 USDA/FDA report, compared to raw milk one is 515 times more likely to contract Listeria from deli meat and 29 times more likely to receive Listeria from pasteurized milk than from raw milk. In response to a Freedom of information request the CDC provided data on raw milk outbreaks from 1993-2005. During this time there were no cases of food borne illness from raw milk caused by Listeria.

In addition to not containing harmful bacteria, there is some evidence that suggests that raw milk will actually fight harmful bacteria that comes into contact with it. Researchers in 1987 added Campylobacter to chilled raw milk. On day 0 there was 13,000,000 bacteria per ml. On day 9 there were less than 10 bacteria per ml. In another challenge test in 2000, researchers found that Lactoperoxidase in raw milk kills added fungal and bacterial agents. As recently as 2002 BSK Food and Dairy Laboratories inoculated raw colostrum and raw milk with three pathogens. The pathogen counts declined over time and in some cases were undetectable within a week. The conclusion of this test was that raw colostrum and raw milk does not appear to support the growth of Salmonella, E. Coli or Listeria monocytogenes. Just as a point of reference it's interesting to note that E. Coli can survive on coins for 7-11 days at room temperature and Salmonella can survive 1-9 days on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. These are fairly hardy organisms.

Raw Milk versus Pasteurized Milk

From 1980 to 2005, the CDC attributed 19,531 illnesses to consumption of pasteurized milk and milk products. This is 10.7 times the number of illnesses attributed to raw milk during the same period. Raw milk sales represent about 1% of the nations total milk sales. Adjusting for bias, pasteurized milk is 1.1 and 15.3 times more dangerous than raw milk on a per-serving basis.

Why do we pasteurize?

During the 1800s the death rate was 50% among urban children drinking "Swill Milk" or milk produced in inner city confinement dairies. The cows in these dairies were fed brewery swill and raised in unimaginable filth. In addition, water was often added to the milk to make it go further. To combat the poor quality milk the famous germ scientist, Louis Pasteur, called for pasteurization, or heating, of all milk in order to make it free of any potentially harmful bacteria, no matter how it changed the quality of the milk. It was never meant to be a permanent fix, but only a temporary remedy until milk could be clean again. In time, inner-city swill dairies were outlawed, milking hygiene was improved, and consumer access to refrigeration was improved thereby making pasteurization unnecessary. Unfortunately though, pasteurization has become a way of life and most can't imagine drinking milk any other way.

So in a word, yes, raw milk is safe and arguably safer than pasteruized milk. However, raw milk like any food is only safe if it's produced under safe conditions. It's very important when choosing a raw milk source that you know your farmer and make sure that he is following safe farming practices. For more information check out the Campaign for Real Milk site.



Kristen's Raw said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Now here is the real does it taste? Any different?


Unknown said...

Shannan - it tastes like whole milk. Nothing funky about it!


Andrea Stevens said...

My family and I have been drinking raw milk since October and it's wonderful! It really tastes so rich and creamy, and pure. That's the only way I can describe it. I was never much of a milk drinker, but now I find myself drinking more because it's so good.
Thank you for compiling this information. I didn't know that about the swill dairys and pasteurization.

Michelle said...

I try to avoid milk and all dairy, but occasionally I'll have a little bit and have wondered about raw milk. Raw cheeses too. Ever get cheese?

Unknown said...

Yes, I can personally attest to the fact that raw milk cheddar is delicious! And, all the nutrients and enzymes are intact, making it the perfect preserved, aged, yet still raw food!

Leslie said...

I've been tempted to try raw milk for a while now.. do any of you give it to your young children (ages 1-3?)Does it contain the same fat as whole milk which would be important for me since my 1 year old is very tiny. Also, I was wondering if it is important for it to be organic and is that hard to find? I'm having trouble finding anywhere to purchase raw milk in our area of Hartford, CT. Our Whole Foods store only has one brand of raw milk and it is goat's milk but it is not organic. Any thoughts and does raw goat's milk have the same benefits as cow's milk? Thanks

Unknown said...

Hi Leslie! Yes, raw milk is whole milk. In addition to not pasteurizing, those that sell raw milk tend not to homogenize.

I would say that usually raw milk is also organic, but it's always good to ask what the cows/goats eat. The best is if they are pastured and supplemented with pesticide-free grain. Also find out what kind of treatments/medicines they give the animals as these can show up in milk.

I give it to my children. My youngest is 3, but was 2 when we started. Once again, just be sure they use safe farming and have healthy animals.

In Michigan it's still illegal to sell raw milk commercially so I had to really search for a place that I could purchase raw milk and have to participate in a cow/goat share to do that. I would recommend calling around to local organic farms to get recommendations for raw milk suppliers.

All the sources I have read say that raw goat's milk is actually superior to raw cow's milk nutrititionally especially for children. The proteins are smaller and easier to digest and it more closely resembles human milk. Try it though. Depending on how the farmer milks, sometimes it has a more distinct "goaty" flavor.

Hope that info helps and let me know if you need any more help.

daedra said...
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Unknown said...

I don't disagree with you Daedra. I don't think one needs milk daily and there are many foods that provide similar nutrients which can be substituted. We certainly don't need the three servings of dairy I see advertised commercially. However, I do think it can't be beat in providing certain nutrients and immunities when consumed raw, but like anything, we each need to choose what works best for each of us and I hope to provide information to help along the way with those choices. Thanks for your insight.


Ella said...

Great article, changed my mind about raw milk. I have my own blog I would love to add you to my blog roll and hope you will do the same - let me know your thoughts. I am also part of you should check it out and add your profile, it's a great way to promote your business and blog.

I look forward to connecting with you and continuing to read your blog.


Unknown said...

Thanks for reading Ella, Your blog looks great and I am definitely going to check out It looks interesting at first glance. We would love to be listed on your blog and will do the same as soon as I get our list set up. Karla and I have been watching a several different blogs and need to compose a list of our favorites!
- Shannan

Tammy said...

Thank you so much for this very well written and informative post...I am researching raw milk through various sources and you confirm what I have been finding so far!
A friend of mine has recently began buying raw milk from a farm and their family has loved it- she gave me sample and it in indeed delicious! Of course I'm weighing everything I read and learn carefully...the risk vs the benefits but it really does seem that the benefits are winning!

Alexandra & Jeremiah said...

It's really exciting to see trends towards consuming more raw foods- but not all raw foods are equally safe.While I appreciate this blog is to state the authors opinion, the other side needs to be represented. Many of the benefits of drinking raw milk listed above our bodies already produce and have as a part of our immune system and we certainly don't need to ingest it (In particular some of the Leukocytes,ie/Neutrophils). There are risks in drinking milk that has not been pasteurized that people need to realize and not be ignorant about. While you may drink it and never get sick, just one little sip can give you a disease and there is no way of knowing unless the milk is testing for bacteria- as the animal may not even show obvious symptoms of illness. One example of a microbial disease that can be passed through cows milk is Tuberculosis Bovine, that not only does the person in contact with it suffer from but it is highly infectious and puts others in the community at great risk ( This is not far fetched- there are documented cases of TB outbreaks). Infants and young children are especially as risk because of their developing immune system. If someone does the research and comes to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks then that is their decision- but the facts for both sides need to be examined.

Unknown said...

All due respect Alexandra, but isn't there a risk of eating contaminated food anytime you put anything in your mouth. All we need to do is think back to lettuce contaminated with E. Coli, tomatoes with bacteria, lunch meats with Listeria. The CDC actually has more recorded cases of pasteurized dairy products contaminated with bacteria than raw products per capita. It's a risk whenever eating anything that it will not have been handled, processed, or packaged in a clean, safe way.

Anonymous said...

Hello Shannan and Karla:
My family and I have been drinking raw milk for over 2 years now. WE have started making our own butter, buttermilk biscuits/pancakes. When we started drinking the milk we took it easy in the case that we noticed anyone getting far so good. Also, I have lost weight drinking raw milk. I feel fuller longer with drinking it vs. store bought. We are very blessed to find someone who provides it. I can tolerate store bought milk, but TOTALLY prefer 'fresh' milk as we call it in our house. :) Thanks for your blog... Carrie

Unknown said...

Carrie - thanks so much for your comment.

Dustie Lee said...

I started buying raw milk for my family a few weeks ago. My son has allergies to so many things and I am hoping that through changing my families diet to as many natural, good foods as possible it might help cure his allergies. I appreciate the information you mentioned above, but I was wondering if there was any way you could site your sources so I can further my research instead of believing everything I read. Thank you for helping others through your research and knowledge on living a healthier life.

Unknown said...

It's been awhile since I wrote this post, but I know I really enjoyed the Weston A. Price Foundation and all of their great research for a lot of the information on Raw Milk and all of it's health benefits. I researched the CDC archives for info on reported infections involving dairy. Off the top of my head, that's where you can look to verify this info. Thanks so much for being an educated consumer!!

Dustie Lee said...

Thank you for your quick response. I look forward to furthering my researched with the information you shared! The more research I do the more disappointed I am in the way Americans are mislead, even tricked, into feeding our family's foods that are causing disease and cognitive problems! I am grateful for the time and research you have put forth to benefit others, thank you!

Small Town Hoe'r said...

I'm milking a neighbor's goats this week for her while she's on vacation. I couldn't bring myself to try the milk raw. I ended up pasteurizing all six quarts that I have milked this week. Thanks for the informative post. I knew much of this but was too nervous to try it raw with a cooking and foodservice sanitation education behind me. Thanks for spelling it all out.

Unknown said...

We purchased raw goats milk for awhile - its supposedly the closest to human milk and therefore better for you, but I could never get over the "goaty" taste of it! Some weeks were better than others. I know many people love it though - it's all about personal preference.

By the way, from what I understand, home pasteurization is much better than commercial as lower temps are used and therefore less heat destruction to the milk proteins and enzymes. This is a great first step in going raw with dairy products!

Sophie said...

As a small (goat) dairy farmer, I can tell you that most reputable small organic dairies test for transmissible TB/Brucellosis and Johnes on a regular basis. Many, like us, have milk samples cultured by diagnostic labs as often as monthly.

Also, small organic dairies actually CARE for their livestock and can usually detect issues long before they become a problem. Get to know your raw milk provider, take a look at their goats or's pretty evident what a healthy dairy animal should look like! Ask to see their living conditions, ask if you can watch them milk and so on...obviously, I'd watch out for the ones who say "no" as they quite possibly have something to hide.

Our goat milk tastes like...milk, creamy fresh milk. "Goatiness" tends to be an issue with either not cooling it down properly, not having clean enough equipment and rarely, they goat eating something it shouldn't...though our goats simply love wild garlic and onion, and we've never had a change in taste.

To each his own, knowledge is your best protection!

Unknown said...

Thanks Sophie! It's great to hear from someone in the business!


Rational νεόφυτος said...

Some good and helpful information here. thanks!

catasteams said...

I would be interested in scientific study documentation of the claims of raw milk vs pasteurized milk. thanks. Carol

This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog is intended to replace the advice of a physician. We recommend consulting a physician before embarking on diet changes or a fitness routine. In addition, we recommend that you thoroughly research alternate points of view and make your own decisions as an informed consumer. You are ultimately responsible for your health.