The number of people drinking raw milk is on the rise, as is the related number of human infections from raw milk consumption. Caught up in the popularity of legitimate local, organic and sustainable food movements, or confused by conflicting information, consumers may be gravitating toward raw milk without realizing the potential for health risks.
>What is raw milk?
It's milk that has not been pasteurized, acquired from hoofed mammals such as cows, goats or sheep. Pasteurization heats milk to a temperature just high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Salmonella, Brucella and Campylobacter which may cause food-borne illness and even death.
These bacteria are especially dangerous to children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. Raw milk proponents believe pasteurization diminishes milk's health and nutritional benefits, and rally behind anecdotal reports that promote superior nutrition and health advantages for raw milk. The actual research shows no such benefits.
According to the nutrition advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest, 83 percent of milk foodborne illness outbreaks are from raw milk, yet an estimated 5 million to 10 million Americans drink raw milk. Between 1998 and 2008, there were 85 outbreaks of human infection from raw milk consumption and 1,614 illnesses (though likely higher due to underreporting), 187 hospitalizations, and two deaths reported. As of March 2010, 12 more cases from raw milk produced in Indiana were confirmed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required pasteurization of all packaged milk products and restricted interstate sales since 1987. The FDA acknowledges the risk of consuming raw milk and strongly advises against it, but actual regulation lies with individual states. Some states permit the retail sale of raw milk, while others only permit sales from farm to consumer.
Currently, 29 states authorize the legal sale of raw milk for human consumption, 17 allow farm sales only, and 13 allow retail sales. Depending on your state's laws, you should ensure that every milk product you purchase is labeled "pasteurized" in order to safeguard your health.
>Debunking the myths
Environmental Nutrition gives you the following facts on milk safety;
1. 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.
2. Raw milk DOES NOT kill dangerous pathogens.
3. Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk's nutritional value.
4. Pasteurization DOES NOT mean that it's safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for extended periods.
5. Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
6. Pasteurization DOES save lives.
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration