Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk (2023)

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(Video) The Dangers of Unpasteurized Milk

Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk (1)

Milk and milk products provide a wealth of nutrition benefits. But raw milk, i.e., unpasteurized milk, can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1993 through 2012, there were 127 outbreaks linked to raw milk or raw milk products like ice cream, soft cheese, or yogurt. They resulted in 1,909 illnesses and 144 hospitalizations. CDC points out that most foodborne illnesses are not a part of recognized outbreaks, and for every illness reported, many others occur.

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, and goats — or any other animal — that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Raw milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, and others that cause foodborne illness, often called “food poisoning.”

These bacteria can seriously injure the health of anyone who drinks raw milk or eats products made from raw milk. However, the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems (such as transplant patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes), children, older adults, and pregnant women. In fact, CDC finds that foodborne illness from raw milk especially affects children and teenagers.

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"Pasteurized Milk" Explained

Pasteurization is a widely used process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature
for a set period of time. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, Q fever, and brucellosis.

The Dangers of Listeria and Pregnancy

Pregnant women run a serious risk of becoming ill from the bacteria Listeria, which is often found in raw milk and can cause miscarriage, or illness, or death of the newborn baby. If you are pregnant, drinking raw milk — or eating foods made from raw milk, such as Mexican-style cheese like Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco — can harm your baby even if you don’t feel sick.

Raw Milk and Serious Illness

Symptoms and Advice

Symptoms of foodborne illness usually include:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and body ache

While most healthy people will recover from an illness caused by harmful bacteria in raw milk – or in foods made with raw milk – within a short time, some can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life-threatening. If you or someone you know becomes ill after consuming raw milk or products made from raw milk – or, if you are pregnant and think you may have consumed contaminated raw milk or cheese – see a healthcare professional immediately.

Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk (2)

(Video) Dairy: Is It A Health Food Or A Health Risk?

Raw Milk & Pasteurization: Debunking Milk Myths

While pasteurization has helped provide safe, nutrient-rich milk and cheese for over 120 years, some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe, healthier alternative.

Here are some common myths and proven facts about milk and pasteurization:

  • Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
  • Raw milk DOES NOT kill dangerous pathogens by itself.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk's nutritional value.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT mean that it is safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for extended time, particularly after it has been opened.
  • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
  • Pasteurization DOES save lives.

When in Doubt — Ask!

  • Read the label. Safe milk will have the word “pasteurized” on the label. If the word “pasteurized” does not appear on a product’s label, it may contain raw milk.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask your grocer or health food store clerk whether milk or cream has been pasteurized, especially milk or milk products sold in refrigerated cases.
  • Don’t buy milk or milk products at farmers’ markets or roadside stands unless you can confirm that they have been pasteurized.

Is Your Homemade Ice Cream Safe?

Each year, homemade ice cream causes serious outbreaks of infection from Salmonella. The ingredient responsible is raw or undercooked eggs. If you choose to make ice cream at home, use a pasteurized egg product, egg substitute, or pasteurized shell eggs in place of the raw eggs in your favorite recipe. There are also many egg-free ice cream recipes available.

Protect Your Family with Wise Food Choices

Most milk and milk products sold commercially in the United States contain pasteurized milk or cream, or the products have been produced in a manner that kills any dangerous bacteria that may be present. But, unpasteurized milk and products made from unpasteurized milk are sold and may be harmful to your health. To avoid getting sick from the dangerous bacteria found in raw milk, you should choose your milk and milk products carefully. Follow these guidelines:

Low Risk Choices

  • Pasteurized milk or cream
  • Hard cheeses such as cheddar, and extra hard grating cheeses such as Parmesan
  • Soft cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero, and Queso Blanco made from pasteurized milk
  • Processed cheeses
  • Cream, cottage, and Ricotta cheese made from pasteurized milk
  • Yogurt made from pasteurized milk
  • Pudding made from pasteurized milk
  • Ice cream or frozen yogurt made from pasteurized milk

High Risk Choices

  • Unpasteurized milk or cream
  • Soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, and Mexican-style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero, and Queso Blanco made from unpasteurized milk
  • Yogurt made from unpasteurized milk
  • Pudding made from unpasteurized milk
  • Ice cream or frozen yogurt made from unpasteurized milk

Safe Food Handling: Four Simple Steps


Wash hands and surfaces often

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, launder them often in the hot cycle.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush.
  • With canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.
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Separate raw meats from other foods

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator.
  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs unless the plate has been washed in hot, soapy water.
  • Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.


Cook to the right temperature

  • Color and texture are unreliable indicators of safety. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products for all cooking methods. These foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Only use recipes in which eggs are cooked or heated thoroughly.
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating.


Refrigerate foods promptly

  • Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40° F or below and the freezer temperature is 0° F or below.
  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90° F.
  • Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

The Dangers of Unpasteurized Milk

(Video) Benefits of raw milk

Additional Information


What are the side effects of drinking unpasteurized milk? ›

Most commonly, bacteria in raw milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, fever, headache and body aches.

Should you avoid unpasteurized milk? ›

Raw milk can contain a variety of disease-causing pathogens, as demonstrated by numerous scientific studies. These studies, along with numerous foodborne outbreaks, clearly demonstrate the risk associated with drinking raw milk.

Why can some people drink unpasteurized milk? ›

Raw milk advocates argue that it's a complete, natural food containing more amino acids, antimicrobials, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids than pasteurized milk. They also claim that it's a better choice for those with lactose intolerance, asthma, and autoimmune and allergic conditions.

Why did the US ban unpasteurized milk? ›

The consumption of raw milk is linked to a significant number of foodborne illnesses, some of which can result in serious complications and death. These illnesses are attributed to a variety of pathogens, including Escherichia coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Brucella abortus.

How many people died from unpasteurized milk? ›

Synthesis: Thirty-two disease outbreaks were linked to dairy consumption. Twenty outbreaks involving unpasteurized products resulted in 449 confirmed cases of illness, 124 hospitalizations, and five deaths.

Can you get parasites from unpasteurized milk? ›

Raw milk is unpasteurized milk from any animal and can contain many harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Unfortunately, raw milk outbreaks are on the rise in the United States. In fact, the risk of an outbreak caused by raw milk is at least 150 times greater than the risk caused by pasteurized milk.

Which is better pasteurized or unpasteurized milk? ›

Which should you choose? Although unpasteurized foods may have a better flavor profile and slightly more nutrients in some cases, you should choose pasteurized foods when possible. Pasteurized foods have been shown to be safer, have a longer shelf life, and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Is unpasteurized milk banned in the US? ›

States may adopt their own laws on raw milk sales. However, at the federal level, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk. All milk sold across state lines must be pasteurized and meet the standards of the US Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.

Does raw milk cause inflammation? ›

Unpasteurized milk has been linked with numerous health benefits including higher bone density, clearer skin, and a reduced risk of allergies and inflammation.

How do you make unpasteurized milk safe? ›

Keep the milk at the right temperature.
  1. Heat the milk to 63°C (150°F) for at least 30 minutes or 72°C (162°F) for at least 15 seconds.
  2. If the temperature falls lower than the one you're using, you have to start timing again.

What countries drink unpasteurized milk? ›

Raw milk is legally available in many other nations including England, New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Raw milk is legally available in 43 American states via retail and farm-gate sales, private buying clubs, and herdshares.

Why is milk not refrigerated in Europe? ›

You may not have realized that Europeans actually buy and store their milk outside of the fridge. The reason is a simple one: Europeans rely on a completely different pasteurization method. Canadian and American milk manufacturers utilize high-temperature, short-time pasteurization.

Is America the only country that pasteurized milk? ›

Almost all milk is pasteurized, meaning it undergoes extreme heat in order to kill illness-causing bacteria. The U.S. and Canada use a pasteurizing technique called high-temperature short-time pasteurization, or HTST.

Why can't Americans buy unpasteurized cheese? ›

Cheese made with unpasteurized (raw) milk can't be sold in the USA unless it has been aged for at least 60 days. This is regulated by​ The Food and Drug Administration. After 60 days, the acids and salts in raw-milk cheese and the aging process are believed to naturally prevent listeria, salmonella, E.

Is all milk in US pasteurized? ›

Since that time and through today, with the exception of milk that's marketed as “raw” (milk that has not been pasteurized) milk, all milk in the United States has been pasteurized. This process is one of the many ways the U.S. dairy industry helps ensure that our milk is safe.

What are the odds of getting sick from raw milk? ›

On average, one in six people who drink raw milk becomes ill with bacterial or parasite infections, according to researchers at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Can unpasteurized drinks make you sick? ›

What are the risks? Unpasteurized juice/cider can be contaminated with viruses and harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium parasites. Fruit used to make juice and cider can become contaminated in the farm environment, through handling, processing or transportation.

Can you get tuberculosis from unpasteurized milk? ›

M. bovis, a bacterial species of the M. tuberculosis complex, is a pathogen that primarily infects cattle. However, humans also can become infected, most commonly through consumption of unpasteurized milk products from infected cows.

Can you get toxoplasmosis from unpasteurized milk? ›

Toxoplasmosis is a worldwide zoonotic disease with harmful effects on animal and human health. Ingestion of contaminated raw milk has been suggested as a vehicle for transmission of Toxoplasma gondii to human.

How much raw milk should you drink a day? ›

Adults sustain excellent health when they consume at least 3 cups of whole raw milk, every day. Just one cup (240 mL) of whole raw cow's milk contains: Calories: 150. Raw Protein: 8 grams.

Is unpasteurized milk easier to digest? ›

Despite claims that people who are lactose-intolerant can digest raw milk more easily than pasteurized milk, a new study found no difference between the two. Despite claims that people who are lactose-intolerant can digest raw milk more easily than pasteurized milk, a Stanford study found no difference between the two.

Should humans drink milk? ›

Is the consumption of cow's milk essential for proper health? The bottom line is no, dairy products are not a nutritional requirement for humans.

Did people drink unpasteurized milk? ›

Archaeological evidence shows that humans were consuming raw milk for thousands of years before the widespread appearance of the lactase-persistence gene.

How long will unpasteurized milk last? ›

Q: How long will raw milk keep? A: When kept at the optimal temperature of 36-38° F. (2.2-3.3°C.) you can expect fresh raw milk to last from 7-10 days.

Why did the US start pasteurizing milk? ›

Pasteurization was first used in the United States in the 1890s after the discovery of germ theory to control the hazards of highly contagious bacterial diseases, including bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, that could be easily transmitted to humans through the drinking of raw milk.

Does milk heal the gut? ›

A sprinkle of cheese, a cup of yogurt or a glass of milk could help you achieve better gut health, research suggests.

Does raw milk balance hormones? ›

Higher Levels of Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Another surprising benefit of raw milk is its concentration of fat-soluble vitamins, which are important for both heart health as well as cancer prevention. Fat-soluble vitamins also help to balance hormones naturally.

Does milk cause joint inflammation? ›

Dairy contains a high level of protein casein. This type of protein triggers inflammation and pain in the joints, and may even contribute to irritation around the joints. Some dairy products, such as butter, contain a high amount of saturated fat. This can also contribute to inflammation and joint pain.

Can we drink unpasteurized milk after boiling? ›

Bringing unpasteurized milk to a boil will make it less nutritious, but it can also kill the bacteria that could make you seriously ill, so the tradeoff is probably worth it.

Can you get botulism from unpasteurized milk? ›

botulinum in silage and in the gastrointestinal tract of cattle with botulism has been reported, thus contamination of the farm environment and raw milk, and further transmission through the dairy chain, are possible.

What is considered unpasteurized milk? ›

Unpasteurized milk—sometimes called "raw" milk—is milk that has not been treated to remove harmful germs through pasteurization. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a temperature at which harmful germs are killed.

Why is milk in Mexico not refrigerated? ›

The boxed milk in Mexico is heated by way of the Ultra-High Temperature Pasteurization (UHT) method. This is why the milk is safe to keep at room temperature when it is in an airtight and light-sealed container.

When did the FDA ban raw milk? ›

In 1987, the FDA issued a regulation prohibiting the interstate sale of raw milk. However, some states do permit the intrastate (within the borders) sale of raw milk intended for human consumption. 6. How does the pasteurization of raw milk protect consumers?

Do eggs need to be refrigerated? ›

In the United States, fresh, commercially produced eggs need to be refrigerated to minimize your risk of food poisoning. However, in many countries in Europe and around the world, it's fine to keep eggs at room temperature for a few weeks.

Why do Americans refrigerate eggs? ›

The answer has to do with bacteria: Salmonella. In the United States, it's more than a food safety recommendation that eggs be refrigerated – it's the law. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that the best way to fight Salmonella contamination is by sanitizing the eggs before they reach the consumer.

Why does milk last longer in USA? ›

US dairy products are overprocessed, heated too much and therefore given an extended shelf-life. Lightly pasteurized milk is much better, but it does spoil more quickly.

Why don t the French drink fresh milk? ›

For the most part however it seems to be down to preference and tradition. France after all isn't the only country on the continent to choose long-life milk over fresh.

How do you make unpasteurized milk safe to drink? ›

Keep the milk at the right temperature.
  1. Heat the milk to 63°C (150°F) for at least 30 minutes or 72°C (162°F) for at least 15 seconds.
  2. If the temperature falls lower than the one you're using, you have to start timing again.

What happens when you boil unpasteurized milk? ›

Bringing unpasteurized milk to a boil will make it less nutritious, but it can also kill the bacteria that could make you seriously ill, so the tradeoff is probably worth it.

What foods contain unpasteurized milk? ›

Avoid Raw Milk, Raw Milk Soft Cheeses, and Other Raw Milk Products
  • Brie.
  • Feta.
  • Camembert.
  • Roquefort.
  • Queso blanco.
  • Queso fresco.
Sep 25, 2020

How long does unpasteurized milk last? ›

Q: How long will raw milk keep? A: When kept at the optimal temperature of 36-38° F. (2.2-3.3°C.) you can expect fresh raw milk to last from 7-10 days.

Does microwaving raw milk pasteurize it? ›

Raw milk can also be pasteurized in a microwave oven. Heat to 165°F. using a thermometer or temperature probe. Stir the milk once or twice during the heating period to equalize the temperature throughout.


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