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The Risks of Raw Milk


Submitted By: Amy Sercel

Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

If you live in Vermont, you’ve probably been to a few dairy farms, or know a dairy farmer, and have met people who drink raw milk.  Over the past few years, raw milk has become increasingly popular, especially among people who are passionate about the localvore movement.  Proponents of raw milk claim that it has more nutrients than pasteurized milk and can therefore prevent or eliminate allergies and help its drinkers stay healthier overall. These sound like great benefits, but drinking raw milk also means risking serious illnesses that can result in kidney failure or death.

The milk you buy at the grocery store has been pasteurized, or heated up to kill harmful bacteria, before being cooled and bottled.  Raw milk, on the other hand, is not pasteurized.  Any bacteria that are transferred from the cow’s feed and bedding, or that are on the milking equipment and storage containers, will stay in the milk.  Milk’s high nutrient content, coupled with its low acidity, provide the ideal environment for these bacteria to multiply. Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and Staph aureus have all been found in raw milk.  Staph aureus alone has been found in 12% of raw milk samples in Italy and 75% in Norway.  Children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of illness.  Although infection can be treatable, it can still cause horrible ramifications such as kidney failure.  In the case of pregnant women, Listeria has been known to result in miscarriage, fetal death, and illness or death of the newborn.

In order to reduce your risk of becoming infected, the best course of action is to choose pasteurized milk and products made with pasteurized milk.  Hard cheeses that have been aged for longer than 60 days, such as Cheddar and Parmesan, are considered safe when made from raw milk because the acid produced in the aging process kills bacteria.  Pregnant women, however, should still avoid them to ensure the safety of their babies.  Soft cheeses, yogurt, puddings, ice cream, frozen yogurt, and fluid milks should all be made from pasteurized milk. Nutrients lost during the pasteurization process, such as small amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E, can be made up for by eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.  By choosing pasteurized milk products, you and your family will remain safe, healthy, and happy!

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