Raw Milk in Modern Times

It is hard to get infected. The immune system is robust and has a multitude of interlinking defenses that are extremely efficient in beating off most pathogens. Most of the time.

Fortunately, it is a minority of microbes that have evolved to be virulent in humans. Bacteremia is common with our own microbiome. When you brush or floss, bacteria leak into the blood stream:

We identified oral bacterial species in blood cultures following single-tooth extraction and tooth brushing. Sequence analysis of 16S rRNA genes identified 98 different bacterial species recovered from 151 bacteremic subjects. Of interest, 48 of the isolates represented 19 novel species of Prevotella, Fusobacterium, Streptococcus, Actinomyces, Capnocytophaga, Selenomonas, and Veillonella.

but with a good immune system, low virulence bacteria and no place to go, unfortunately the bacteria rarely cause infections.

Even heroin users rarely get infection. Heroin is a rich melange of  with bacteria and, on occasion, yeasts (I hate to say contaminated, since avoiding microbes is hardly a worry of heroin manufacturers), and the water used for injection is rarely sterile, yet infections are relatively rare despite the filth in which many heroin users exist.

I used to be somewhat fatalistic about hospital acquired infections. However, as the institutions in which I have worked have proven, almost all infections in the hospital are preventable if the institutions aggressively pursue high standards of care.

There are many systems in place in society to prevent infections: flush toilets, good nutrition, public health, vaccines, antibiotics, good hygiene, and an understanding of disease epidemiology, and I suspect people forget there are bugs out there that are pathogenic, just waiting to sicken and kill us. At least a couple of times a year I see patients come into the hospital, previously healthy, who rapidly die of acute infections.  But for most people, most of the time,  it takes a lot of effort to get an infection.

From my perspective we are Charlie Chaplain on skates , mostly unaware of the infections that awaits us if we do something silly, or even when we act with the best intentions to avoid illness. The odds are small we will get a life threatening or serious infection in the US, just as the odds are small we will drown or be killed in a car accident. The germs are there, waiting, and in the end, no matter what we do, we will be consumed by the microbial world.

It is that perspective that leads to a lack of understanding as to why some people seem to love tipping the odds in favor of the bacteria. Avoiding vaccines is perhaps the most popular method for getting infections that could otherwise be avoided, but dietary habits are an curious way to acquire preventable infections.

Humans and cows have a long history of sharing infectious diseases. Measles is either a variant of rinderpest, a cattle illness, or they share a common ancestor. On the beneficial side of the relationship was cowpox, which lead to the small pox vaccination.

While I am a bit of a foodie (for example, while I do not remember by first kiss, I remember the epiphany of my first gourmet restaurant meal), I cannot grok (see how old I am) people who either think a specific food is to be avoided at all costs or is the panacea for preventing illness. Like cows milk.

There is school of thought that cows milk should be never be consumed: it is filled with pus, blood, hormones, foreign protein and antibiotics.  And not only does milk not build strong bones, it leads to cancer. And if you can’t trust a kinesologist, who can you trust?

It’s not natural for humans to drink cow’s milk. Humans milk is for humans. Cow’s milk is for calves.

Sounds like a metaphorical argument for cannibalism to me.

And, as the anti-cows milk proponents note,  milk has infectious diseases swimming in the white murk. A cesspool of bovine feces and bacteria that should be avoided, although how you can eat a homemade chocolate chip cookie without it, I cannot imagine.

So milk is one of the bad foods and should be avoided. Except when you shouldn’t. Newtons Law states that for every SCAM, there is an equal and opposite SCAM. Milk is dangerous, except when it is a panacea, when the milk should be raw milk, fresh from the organic, happy, contented cow.

Why raw milk? Pasteurization and homogenization rids the milk of the beneficial components: white cells, proteins, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, fats, cholesterol and bacteria, curiously all the substances that the anti-milk faction says are the root of milky evil. I suppose that, for a raw milk aficionado, there would be no greater dietary sin than a warm glass of milk at bed time or a cup of hot chocolate after skiing.

The truth? I do not doubt that flash heating (usually to 165 degrees for 15 seconds) is going to have some nutritional effects on the milk and, if my diet consisted entirely of milk, it would be a concern. However, what small decrements in nutritional value occur would, and should, be made up with a varied diet. Milk is not, unless turned into Baskin Robbins Chocolate Chip ice cream, a miracle food. I also have no reason to doubt that there is a subset of people who have allergic issues with cows milk. Not everyone can drink bovine proteins with impunity.

Taste, of course, is a personal matter, and I cannot gainsay those who say raw milk tastes better. In my family everyone is picky about their milk; it cannot come in plastic and has to be a specific brand, Dairygold. My wife insists Oregon milk is inferior in flavor to Minnesota milk. French milk tasted weird, and I thought everything else tasted better in France. Pasteurization has mild effects on the nutritional components of milk, and perhaps the taste.

But what raw milk is, above all,  a source for infection. There have been outbreaks with Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli associated with raw milk and other organisms can be found in raw milk, some not common in the US, including  Brucella, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis (a cause of tuberculosis), Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, Giardia, and norovirus. Some are found in cows milk, and some, such as Brucella, more common from goat’s milk. These outbreaks have lead to hospitalizations and a few deaths.

Warm liquid filled with protein, fat and sugars. A good growth media for a bacteria, if they can gain access to the milk. Impossible. Proponents of raw milk point to the clean cows and clean environments that produce raw milk, but you cannot deny both microbiology and gravity. The colons of cows are frequently colonized with the aforementioned potential pathogens and the udder sits below, waiting to be splashed with cow pie. MMMMmmmmmm. Milk and pie. Seriously. Would you lick any cow udder, no matter how clean?

Still, people want their raw milk for the taste and health benefits. Some obtain raw milk illegally at milk speakeasies where I bet the password is Swordfish. You can time share a cow and get the milk straight from the source, although you have to see a presentation on time sharing cows to get the free weekend on the farm. This is good news for me. Since we have instituted aggressive infection control at my hospitals nosocomial infections have plummeted. Once upon a time milk was associated with 25% of infection outbreaks; in part due to pasteurization those rates fell to 1%. Thanks to the raw milk advocates, infections are looking up. The sad thing is parents will feed their children milk supplemented with cow poo. Adults have the right to be stupid; it is what makes America great. But it is a shame that children should suffer as a result of their parents goofy idée fixe.

There is a tendency for humans to have the oddest dietary obsessions, both for and against.

God told Moses certain animals were “clean” to eat — those with cloven hoofs which chewed the cud such as cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and so forth. All fish with fins and scales, and insects of the locust family were also “clean.” The pig and the camel, however, were “unclean” and were not to be eaten. All carnivorous birds, sea creatures without fins and scales, most insects, rodents, reptiles, and so forth were “unclean.

Milk is not on the list. Milk can be an enjoyable part of a diverse diet for most people, but like most foods it should not be filled with live organisms. Pasteurization is a good thing. Except for Hefeweizen. Give me my raw beer.

Posted in: Nutrition, Science and Medicine

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74 thoughts on “Raw Milk in Modern Times

  1. cellculturequeen says:

    A fundamentalist foodie of my acquaintance claims that pasteurization kills all vitamins, that packaged food in general contains no vitamins at all.
    Needless to say, he’s into raw milk as well and recommends it to all his customers. Real raw milk is very difficult to obtain in Germany though, unless you live right next to a farm, so I guess most of them won’t follow this recommendation, if only out of convenience.

  2. Your statements will definately make me think twice about the milk that I am drinking with my morning cereal. It sounds as if noone should be drinking cow’s milk. On the other hand, human milk has been shown to be beneficial for an infant and provides may benefits from immunity to decreased behavioral problems later in life. I am wondering what your thoughts on Soy Milk would be… would you have the same feelings?

    Dr Sam Girgis

  3. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    pasteurization kills all vitamins

    Only vitamine C, I think. And a normal diet will contain enough vitamin C.

  4. Imadgeine says:

    It’s all part of the “if it’s natural it must be good for you, nutty-ness isn’t it. A triumph of marketing. Drinking untreated water from sparkling upland streams and springs in preference to safe water from the water treatment works is almost as silly. (unless you are staring death from dehydration in the face of course)

  5. Erica says:

    While looking for local food sources for my family, I found a nearby dairy that a lot of people seemed to think sold raw milk, although it’s not entirely clear.

    “People who haven’t been able to drink milk for decades are able to drink his, he says, because of a low temperature vat pasteurization tech­nique that doesn’t disturb the milk’s natural enzymes. He doesn’t homoge­nize the milk or add artificial vitamins or additives like some producers do.” [from

    This seems to be sort of balancing on the fence between pasteurized and raw, and I am honestly unsure which side it is closer to. My family doesn’t drink much cow milk due to mild lactose intolerance in some, but I frequently use it in baking (as well as butter, also available from this dairy). Is “low temperature vat pasteurization” as effective a disinfectant, or is this just raw milk with a different name?

  6. wales says:

    As a source of food borne illness, shellfish and salad ingredients outshine milk (raw or pasteurized) hands down. Food borne Noroviruses exceed other types of food borne disease by far at over 9 million cases per year.

    Shall we outlaw raw vegetables and fruit and shellfish?

    BTW MC, your link regarding milk outbreaks is to an article about blood pressure…..

  7. @wales

    “As a source of food borne illness, shellfish and salad ingredients outshine milk (raw or pasteurized) hands down. Food borne Noroviruses exceed other types of food borne disease by far at over 9 million cases per year.”

    “Shall we outlaw raw vegetables and fruit and shellfish?”

    Not unless actual risk of illness is significant. Statistically speaking, the infection rate/risk is more significant than the total number of cases.

    The number of illnesses from raw milk is low because consumption of raw milk is low. If as many people consumed raw milk as consume shellfish and raw vegetables, there would be far more illnesses from raw milk.

    Of course the number if illness from pasteurized milk is low, that’s the point of pasteurization. I’m not sure what your point in mentioning pasteurized milk was.

    The number of illnesses due to shellfish and salad ingredients reflect the fact that they are widely consumed, whereas raw milk is not, thus lower numbers of incidents due to raw milk.

    Did you even read the article you linked to?

    “While technological advances such as pasteurization and proper canning have all but eliminated some disease, new causes of foodborne illness have been identified.”

    Noroviruses are a concern because we’ve already tackled the bigger concerns.

  8. Scott says:

    I’ll also observe that if there were a way as easy and effective, with as relatively limited disadvantages, to prevent foodborne illness from shellfish or whatever – then yes, regulations ought to call for its use.

  9. Mighty Amoeba says:

    I worked as a microbiologist for a major milk company in the Pacific NW for a couple years, and can confirm that raw milk is not always, but in many cases a cesspool you would not want to put in your mouth.

    To be fair, I was in charge of identifying the bacteria found in the raw milk that was above a certain bacteria count, so I only saw the nastier examples, but the thing is, there were a lot of them. Every day. And while some of the raw milk might be fine, you may only be able to beat the odds for so long. It wasn’t always repeat offenders; sometimes a farm would just suddenly have a problem with their milk out of the blue. What if they were the cows you were trusting to give you non-nasty raw milk?

    E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae were by far the most common, and there were all sorts of others you wouldn’t want to drink. I did find Yersina once, but it was not Yersina pestis, something I was oddly disappointed about.

    Anyone who drinks raw milk should be encouraged to visit a dairy microbiology lab and it is highly likely they will leave in favor of pasteurization, if not discontinue drinking milk altogether.

  10. CarolM says:

    Oh, this brings back bad memories. A close relative went off on a “health food” crusade back in the early 70s after reading a couple Adele Davis books. That of cousre included embracing the raw milk movement, shopping only at certain dairies, strongly advocating it to anyone and everyone and getting into family fights and alienating this in-law or that. All based on Adele Davis, or something.

    It seemed to be some kind of substitute for religion, since we were all too modern for the real thing.

  11. Jim Laidler says:

    Mmmm, milk. A delightful blend of fats, sugars, essential minerals and (some) vitamins. Just what a growing bacteria needs to grow rapidly and multiply.

    If I’m not mistaken, the historic concern with raw milk – and the one that led to widespread pasteurization of milk – wasn’t the “run-of-the-mill” staphyloccocus and streptococcus or even E. coli but Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

    Now that Mycobacterium (specifically, Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis) has been linked – at least tentatively – to Crohn’s disease, I’d think that even the raw food promoters would step back from raw milk.

    I realize that the dairies – at least those on the West coast – that sell raw milk have their cattle inspected regularly, but how many people could be getting Mycobacterium, Listeria or E. coli O157:H7 with their corn flakes between inspections?

    If people feel that the taste or “health benefits” of raw milk are superior to pasteurized milk (no data support that claim, as far as I can find), they should at least be made aware of the risks.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

    Jim Laidler

  12. Kenneth says:

    There is a person on YouTube who goes by the moniker C0nc0rdance who created what I think is a good video on raw milk:

    Oddly he compares consuming raw milk with consuming fugu…

  13. wales says:

    KW: “Not sure why you mentioned pasteurized milk”…..

    1) Because pasteurized milk is allowed a bacterial count of 20,000 per ml (federal) and 15,000 per ml (California) and a coliform count of 10 per ml; note the allowable somatic cell count (white blood cells) yum yum.

    2) food borne illness can and does occur in pasteurized dairy products; the outbreak cited below resulted in 3 deaths:
    Outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes Infections Associated with Pasteurized Milk from a Local Dairy — Massachusetts, 2007 MMWR weekly October 10, 2008 / 57(40);1097-1100

  14. @wales

    1. But, what is the relative risk of these levels? Presumably those limits were chosen precisely because they do not constitute a serious risk of illness. Yes, all food consumed by humans will contain some number of pathogens, what’s your point? Surely you recognize that different levels of contamination by different contaminants constitute different levels of risk, right?

    Also, you still didn’t really clarify the reason for mentioning the (non-relative) risk of illness from pasteurized milk in the context of your comment. Are you arguing that all food has pathogens and we shouldn’t worry too much about it, that all food has pathogens and we need to worry about all food equally, that other food have greater risks and deserve greater attention, that consuming cow’s milk is fundamentally a bad idea no matter what, or something else?

    2. I never said illness couldn’t occur due to pasteurized dairy products; I said the relative risk was low. You have provided no support to dispute that. You, however did imply that pasteurized dairy products were somehow just as risky or riskier than other commonly consumed foods, but have not supported that implication.

    Your last comment muddles your position more than your first, and it’s not really clear what your point is at all now.

    I’ll also repeat my earlier question: Did you read the CDC article you linked ? If so, did you understand my comment about that article and why it doesn’t really support your comment?

  15. Zetetic says:


    The mention of Adelle Davis really brought it back to me as my mother was a devoted follower. All manner of “healthy” food was on the table nightly in my youth but never raw milk. This obsession also led to strained relations with the in-laws as my mother bought Adelle Davis books wholesale by the box and mailed them to everyone she knew! It really was a religious-like mania for her, she was convinced she could cure my father’s glioblastoma with lentil soup and multi-grain bread. It didn’t work.

    However, I think her high esteem for Adelle Davis was shaken a bit once when she saw her in an airport – Chain smoking!

  16. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Bovine tuberculosis is a serious risk. In the Netherlands in 1951 about one third of the farms had cases of bovine tuberculosis. At that time (I was young then) the warning not to drink unpasteurized milk made very good sense. A systematic eradication program reduced this to a few percent in 1955, and since 1994 the Netherlands is official free of it.

    I read in Wikipedia that in the 1930s 40% of all British cattle was infected and every year 40,000 new cases of human infections with bovine tuberculosis were found.

    In Spain and the UK still a few percent of the cows are infected. and there are several dozen cases of human infection with Mycobacterium bovis (people who drink unpasturized milk, I guess).

    Most of the USA is now also almost free of bovine tuberculosis, but in ealrlier times bovine tuberculosis was the most common reason for loss of animals on farms.

  17. wales says:

    KW: Actually I wasn’t arguing anything, merely providing information for those who might be interested. However, when I do drink milk (which is not often) I sometimes buy raw milk because it tastes better to me (and cream and butter too). When I purchase raw milk, I buy milk produced by a dairy which publishes its bacterial count reports and has consistently had bacterial counts averaging less than 5,000 for a period of about 9 years. I know far more about the bacterial content of that product than I could possibly know about any pasteurized dairy product I could buy, which is legally allowed to contain four times the bacteria.

    If I am making any argument at all, it is that this kind of transparency and accountability should be available for all food products.

  18. wales says:

    Oh and by the way, I enjoy raw oysters and mussels too, and sushi as well, and occasionally steak tartare…..

  19. Mark Crislip says:

    Food is inherently dangerous as a source for infection, be it milk, lettace or shrimp. Due to centralization, our food supply is particularly prone to widespread contamination. It is why I only eat deep fried foods. The only way to avoid illness is cook or irradiate everything

  20. wales says:

    MC: “The only way to avoid illness is cook or irradiate everything”

    You are correct. Perhaps imbibing spirits with meals helps as well?

  21. S.C. former shruggie says:

    Here in Ontario, we’ve had people pushing to legalize raw milk for some time. The latest principal actor was one Michael Schmidt. (Story at Related stories also listed there.)

    They even had a study showing zero bacterial contamination in their milk. I seem to recall it was later shown to be fraudulent, and later studies showed significant listeria contamination.

    It will also surprise no one that Mr. Schmidt and his supporters preach two messages. Publicly, it’s about the real, small drop in nutrition. Privately, there is a second gospel, one of Vitalism and Pasteurization “destroying the vital force.” They’re also germ theory denial friendly.

    The internet is full of Ontarion raw milk organisations. Take for example. They play the usual persecuted underdog canard and spout conspiracy theories from the first paragraph.

    The elites have removed voters from making laws in our society by way of our system of representative government. Once we elect our representatives to office, they do whatever they want. The raw milk saga is just one small example of our elites establishing, protecting and furthering their own interests

    And on it goes all over the website. Ontarians demand fecal coliform contaminated milk! Fight the power!

    The usual strategies of anti-vaxers are employed here as well. Minimize the benefits of Pasteurization, and seek to create uncertainty where none exists. Professional concern trolling. And vitalist woo words abound. Unpasteurized milk is routinely called “real milk” and “living food,” harkening back to that vitalist second gospel preached in private.

    I really wish governments would do more to stand up for science and public health regulation against the woo crowd.

  22. wales says:

    Mighty Amoeba: I am curious, do you refer to raw milk intended for pasteurization? There are different standards for raw milk intended for pasteurization and milk intended for consumption. Raw milk intended for pasteurization is allowed a much higher bacterial content (100,000 per ml federal, 50,000 per ml in California) upon the initial testing phase because it will end up being pasteurized and re-tested a second time for consumption standards (20,000 per ml). You did not specify at what stage of milk processing you were testing. But since most milk, especially that processed by a “major milk company”, ends up pasteurized, I would guess that’s what you are referring to.

  23. daijiyobu says:

    What about camel milk?

    I imagine a curse, in an accent of course…

    “May your camel’s milk dry up, and the sands…”


  24. wales says:

    S.C., I have heard that Canada is the only one of the G8 countries to ban the sale of raw milk. Not sure if that is true, any idea?

  25. S.C. former shruggie says:

    Wow. It just doesn’t end.

    This link ( leads to some Mike Adams worthy raw milk nonsense, complete with vitalism, conspiracy theory, snarky political cartoons, and yes, links to Natural News. There’s even something called the farmer to consumer legal defense fund. Oh boy. Once again, if you aren’t supported by science, take the fight to the courts! Disgusting, just like fecal contaminated milk.

    Once again we see the cries of “health freedom!” defend dangerous practice and nonsense. And don’t apply to freedom to eat GMOs, apparently. GMOs are all bad and nobody should be free to buy or sell those. Good grief, Charlie Brown. These people are nothing if not consistent. I don’t know how they manage to always fear the harmless and embrace the truly dangerous in the name of safety, but they do it.

  26. S.C. former shruggie says:


    Yes, it is presently banned because it is not safe. There is a loophole that allows farmers to consume raw milk, and people are using cow time-shares to get around the law.

    Once upon a time, Canada was a land of evidence-based health policy, where research took precedence over argumentum ad populum in medical matters, like banning raw milk. Of late we’re moving in the other direction, licensing NDs in Ontario and allowing the sale andof raw milk, promoted online with vitalist woo. It’s a scary trend. People are getting hurt, from listeria infections from raw milk to deaths from “liberation treatment” for MS.

  27. wales says:

    wow, those other G8 countries had better rush to keep up with Canada’s superior scientific knowledge.

  28. Okay, somebody should probably shoot me now, but I must know.

    I am not a proponent of raw milk. I would never buy raw milk. I have had food poisoning enough times to avoid it at any cost.

    But, my mom grew up on a farm in the 30 and 40s. They kept dairy cows (also pigs, grew beans, etc). I’m pretty certain that they mostly drank the milk from the cows and it wasn’t pasteurized or boiled. I’m pretty sure she would have mentioned it if they had an unusual amount of food poisoning or “stomach flu” back then. It would have gone something like this.

    Me: Mom, I’m sick.
    Mom: You think you’re sick? Back on the farm, we used to get sick all the time and that was sick!

    In fact, one time I remember her scoffing at the folks who thought farms were dangerous to kids due to e-coli. (And she wasn’t a scoffer, by nature.)

    What gives? Were they just getting occasional food poisoning and didn’t identify it. Do you build up resistance if you live on a farm? Are farms different now?

  29. wales says:

    Anecdotes are funny….my grandmother who grew up on a farm says exactly the opposite. She comments on how kids these days get sick a lot more than they used to on the farm.

    And yes, US farming practices have changed a lot since 1930-40.

  30. wales says:

    Sorry Michele, I reread your comment and see that I misread it….

    our my grandmother and your mother are in agreement.

  31. micheleinmichigan

    “Are farms different now?”

    Yes, dairy farms are often large scale, industrial operations these days. More cows in closer proximity, sometimes with little or no opportunity for grazing. More animals in close proximity to each other and their waste = greater potential to share and spread infections.

    Also, the sooner after milking the milk is consumed, the less time the pathogens have to reproduce and culture. Drinking raw milk hours after it is produced is probably a little bit safe than consuming that milk several days later, even with refrigeration.

  32. wales – no worries.

    Actually, it does sound like your grandma and my mom were a bit different. My mom general thought current health was better than health in her childhood. That was in terms of whooping cough, polio, measles (she was very afraid of measles, mumps). She didn’t seem to think that the number of cold/flu infections were any different in her childhood than they were in current times. At least she never remarked on it.

    But I’m thinking specifically of GI type symptoms. She never said that they got more sicknesses with GI symptoms back on the farm than we did in suburbia with pasturized milk.

  33. weatherwax says:

    I remember back in the early eighties a school in New Mexico took a field trip to a local dairy farm where all the kids were given raw milk. The result was a whole school of sick kids. Nothing serious, fortunantly, but alot of diarhea.

    “but with a good immune system, low virulence bacteria and no place to go, unfortunately the bacteria rarely cause infections.”

    I think you might have meant fortunantly there :)

  34. Time Share Dairy?

    I’ve got a slogan.

    Why buy they cow when you can get the milk and pay monthly?

  35. weatherwax,

    With Crislip, you never know if something like that was a typo or a tongue in cheek lament about lost potential income.

    Sometimes the razor sharp wit is indistinguishable from typographic error. :)

  36. Mark Crislip says:

    I meant unfortunately. I make a living from infections

  37. Lytrigian says:

    “you cannot deny both microbiology and gravity”

    My dear sir. Surely you have been around SCAMers enough by now to know they will deny anything and everything, given half a reason.

  38. shawmutt says:

    Mark, your “outbreaks” link is incorrect.

    Good article otherwise, I drink a lot of milk of the pasteurized variety.

  39. DVMKurmes says:

    Kids growing up on farms are likely exposed to small amounts of many of these bacteria on a regular basis and have developed some immunity to many of the common bacteria. Some of the worst cases of milk-borne illness have been in kids who did not live in close proximity to livestock and were given raw milk by their parents;
    It is likely that the smaller farms may have had lower levels of pathogens other than mycobacterium. Mycobacterium bovis has been nearly eliminated by a program of testing and culling infected animals. Ruminants still have to be TB tested when moved between states or sold in the US.

  40. Bogeymama says:

    Great article! Love articles about milk. I have another anecdote to add to michele’s – I grew up on one of those Ontario dairy farms. My cousin was even crowned the Ontario Dairy Princess (Royal Winter Fair, Toronto). It was our entire extended family’s way of life. This was from the 60-80’s, and then my Dad got out of it. The rest of the family still dairy farms.

    We drank our milk straight from the tank. It did undergo some basic treatment between the cow and the bulk refrigeration tank (filtrations of some sort?), but when we got thirsty while doing chores, we either drank out of the hose or scooped some milk out of the tank. A constant stirring kept the fat from settling out on top. I don’t recall any major infections, and everyone in the family seems to enjoy normal longevity. Ironically, the only brother that passed away young (in his 70’s) died from E coli, and he was the only one who didn’t farm – he was a church minister. Our cows did enjoy a rather large pasture – except in winter when they were fed sileage. We only kept between 40-50 head, but that was a medium-sized dairy farm back then.

    Now I live a suburban life, and my son was born with a true cow’s milk (casein) allergy (it’s even worse than his nut allergy). He is still anaphylactic at age 11, and recently got rejected from a trial at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute (New York Mt. Sinai) due to his RAST being too high. Would love to get him into a possible curative trial of some sort so I can breathe easier when he goes to university, and is able to consume pizza while drunk at midnight just like his Mom :) The research is very promising right now.

    It was a tough diagnosis to get my head around at the time due to milk being my life’s blood, but I am seeing it more and more in practice – except when it’s not a real allergy, but one diagnosed by naturopaths. Who seem to diagnose EVERYONE with a fake milk allergy. Don’t get me started!!! There seem to be alot of people blaming milk for many different illnesses, and it’s hard to try and talk any sense into them.

    I would never drink raw milk now, can’t even stand the taste, and don’t understand why anyone would take that risk. I understand why we did it – convenience and economics – but I know that if there appeared to be any danger, my parents would have switched to “store-bought” without a second thought.

  41. Bogeymama says:

    One other thought – I know since the dawn of the hygeine hypothesis that the rise in allergies and asthma is potentially blamed on fewer children being raised on farms, and more sterile environments … which might be a very small argument in favour of unpasteurized milk (with risk / benefit still weighing heavily on the side of pasteurization), but it still doesn’t explain how my son came to be so severely allergic to milk from the day he was born. Being on a farm would not have helped him. I’m not as up-to-date on the most recent research, but I think they’re still studying the European populations as “westernization” infiltrates the former East Germany, where rates of asthma and allergies were significantly lower than those in West Germany – and usually occurring in the oldest child of large farming families. Would love to see a blog post updating us on the hygeine hypothesis… Interestingly, the wikipedia article on hygeine hypothesis has a citation from our friend Andrew Wakefield.

  42. Sabio Lantz says:

    So is it safer to not floss?

  43. daedalus2u says:

    Bogeymama, I think one of the main agents of the hygiene hypothesis is surface bacteria of a certain type. Ammonia oxidizing bacteria that live on the external skin.

    Living on a farm is not universally protective. Children on farms that use antibiotics in animal feed don’t seem to be protected as much as those on farms that don’t use antibiotics. I think it is mostly the loss of the commensal bacteria I am working with that is a major factor in the larger body size of farm animals fed antibiotics. The mechanism for the growth enhancement is unknown, but it does seem to be parallel what has happened in humans, larger body size, faster growth, earlier maturation, more efficient conversion of food calories into biomass.

    I think it has nothing to do with exposures to pathogens. Unfortunately that is where essentially all the work is going, looking at pathogens. Most bacteria are not pathogens. What basis is there for thinking that these non-pathogens can’t be important?

  44. Imadgeine says:

    Those days of yore were not healthier and this was probably the case whether you lived on farms or not. There was lots of sickness, suffering and very premature death. You only have to look at the stats for the steady decline in deaths of children and young adults over the last 150 years or so to see it. A lot of those deaths were related to TB of one kind or another in the first half of the 20th C.

    Anecdotes about a single family never serve to further the cause of science.

    Here in the UK bovine TB is quite common. Farmers believe that cows are infected by badgers (an otherwise harmless dog sized creature). Town dwellers think they are cute of course. Big debate continues because the farmers are fed up with having to have cattle destroyed that have tested positive and think that killing all badgers in the county is the answer. The arguments continue. Since we banned fox hunting this is number one town/country political hot potato. For info on this see:

  45. Mark Crislip says:

    Link fixed in the text. was what I meant.

    Although the dairy commodity accounted for only 3% of
    single commodity outbreak-related cases (16 outbreaks and
    193 cases), 71% of dairy outbreak cases were attributed to
    unpasteurized (raw) milk (10 outbreaks and 137 cases). A wide
    range of bacterial pathogens were associated with unpasteurized milk outbreaks, including Campylobacter (six outbreaks),
    STEC O157 (two outbreaks), Salmonella (one outbreak),
    and Listeria (one outbreak), resulting in 11 hospitalizations
    and one death.”

  46. rmgw says:

    45 responses and NOT ONE mentioning the parlous state of dairy cows: overproduction, mastitis, deprivation of offspring, lameness, early death when “spent” – what an appallingly selfish animal is the human being!

  47. rokujolady says:

    Rmgw, the reason you are not hearing about your pet topic might be because it’s not the topic at hand. The subject of the feelings of milk cows really doesn’t at all impact the question about whether raw milk is good for you.
    As for the selfishness of humanity, you are apparently implying that there are animals that are more caring than we are. In the words of Jareth the Goblin King, “I wonder what your basis for comparison is?”

  48. norrisL says:

    “It’s all part of the “if it’s natural it must be good for you, nutty-ness isn’t it.”

    I often remind the clients of my veterinary practice that Taipan venom is natural. The inland Taipan of central Australia is THE most venomous land snake on Earth. Luckily, almost no one lives in Central Australia so human bites from this snake are very rare.

    The box jellyfish has the most deadly venom of any animal. Note that this venom is also “natural”

  49. Mark Crislip says:

    45 responses and NOT ONE mentioning the parlous state of humans: overproduction, mastitis, deprivation of offspring, lameness, early death when “spent” – what an appallingly selfish animal is the human being!

  50. xwolp says:

    @Bogeymama: As far as I can tell there is no direct correlation between contact to something early in life and an absence of an allergy towards the same thing.
    I mean, I was raised on a farm and only have one allergy. Propolis. A substance that is only found in beehives and alt med nonsense cures and that I had more than enough contact with when collecting honey as a kid.

  51. rmgw says:

    rokujolady – that’s rather the point: as though people were arguing about allegic reactions to one carpet or another when the whole lot were being produced by sweated child labour – drawing attention to the essentially cruel industry which makes a product has some relevance, surely, if only to undercut the whole issue?

    As for “selfish”, yes, you’re right, it is a human concept, but one can compare intra-species, and it certainly struck me as strange that no-one in all the correspondence found their thoughts turning to the unfortunate – sentient – producers of the substance in question.

    Mark Crislip – I suppose your point is that humans have a bad time, too – it’s just a pity this doesn’t teach them mercy towards the exploited helpless in their power.

  52. Rick says:

    From Medscape with CDC’s Robert V. Tauxe, MD, MPH

    Drinking raw milk may not be safe, but no harm will come from eating products (cheeses, yogurts) made from raw milk.

    Unfortunately, this too is quite false. In fact, both people who died in outbreaks related to unpasteurized milk between 1999 and 2008 died of infections caused by fresh Mexican-style cheese made from raw milk. These unfortunate cases show how raw milk made into fresh cheese can cause dangerous infections.

    Now that we’ve put to rest the myths about raw milk, let’s discuss the recent facts about the illnesses caused by consuming raw milk and raw milk products. In the 10 years from 1999 to 2008, 86 outbreaks related to unpasteurized milk were reported to CDC, leading to 1676 illnesses, 191 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths.

    That is about 8 outbreaks per year. Most of them were due to either E coli O157, Campylobacter, or Salmonella. Especially concerning was that, of the 86 outbreaks reported to CDC, 79% involved at least 1 person under the age of 20.Some of the most severe illnesses can occur in young children, like kidney failure due to E coli O157. And remember, E coli O157 can spread from one young child to another in a day care or nursery school.

    Some states permit sale of raw milk and, not surprisingly, about 80% of these outbreaks occurred in states that permit the sale of raw milk. Finally, because not all foodborne outbreaks are investigated or reported to CDC, the actual number of outbreaks that occur is likely to be greater than the number reported.

    Our recommendations are simple and straightforward.

    •Pasteurization of milk is a fundamentally important food safety measure;
    •CDC strongly supports measures to promote pasteurization and restrict the sale of raw milk; and
    •Specifically for clinicians, we urge you to educate your patients about the dangers of consuming raw milk or raw milk products.

    There’s also been discussion where I have been posting SBM blogs regarding raw milk.

  53. Josie says:

    Did you read Tess of the D’Ubervilles and think of nothing but the utter (udder?) cruelty of the protagonist milk maid? Yes that book was an expose of the cruelty of the dairy industry just like this blog post is a thesis on animal welfare focusing on cattle. Except that it isn’t.

    But because you brought it up, why is it you think milk is a product of cruelty?

  54. wales says:

    MC thanks for fixing the link.

    Rick said “In the 10 years from 1999 to 2008, 86 outbreaks related to unpasteurized milk were reported to CDC, leading to 1676 illnesses, 191 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths.” Only two deaths in 10 years attributable to raw milk? Wow, that’s surprising. In 2007, one outbreak alone (attributable to pasteurized milk) resulted in 3 deaths.

    “Some states permit sale of raw milk and, not surprisingly, about 80% of these outbreaks occurred in states that permit the sale of raw milk.” This requires some clarification. The majority of states allow some form of raw milk sales: 10 states allow retail sales of raw milk, 15 states allow farm sales, 4 states allow herd shares and 4 states allow sale of raw milk as pet food. I would guess that the 10 states that allow retail sales are probably the safest, since the raw milk for “consumption” standards require more stringent bacterial and coliform limits than the raw milk “other” standards (pet food, pasteurization, etc.) Though I am not sure if the raw milk sold from farms and herd shares is required to undergo the same testing required for retail sales.

    Since 33 states allow for some form of raw milk sales, it is not surprising that 80% of the outbreaks occur in 33 states. The interesting question is how 20% of the outbreaks occur in states that disallow all forms of raw milk sales.

  55. Calli Arcale says:

    The last time I remember a discussion about raw milk (I think it was here at SBM, might’ve been over on Scienceblogs), someone brought up the subject of ultrapasteurization. Apparently, this method of pasteurization produces milk that is almost indistinguishable from raw milk, except that it’s far less likely to sicken you. It uses higher temperatures for shorter durations, and requires different equipment than is used at most American dairies (which would be an obstacle to its widespread adoption here). It is apparently more typical in Europe.

    The heavy whipping cream that I buy is ultrapasteurized, however. I only started buying it because it almost always has a later expiration date (perhaps because of the pasteurization method) and though I’m not aware of a difference in flavor, it seems to function well and taste good.

  56. Rick says:


    Organic milk that my family buys is ultrapasteurized and I believe can be kept a room temp. if that is the way you like it. I found this article from Scientific American, which is a little dated, but interesting:

    “The process that gives the milk a longer shelf life is called ultrahigh temperature (UHT) processing or treatment, in which milk is heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit (138 degrees Celsius) for two to four seconds, killing any bacteria in it…

    So why isn’t all milk produced using UHT?

    One reason is that UHT-treated milk tastes different. UHT sweetens the flavor of milk by burning some of its sugars (caramelization). A lot of Americans find this offensive—just as they are leery of buying nonrefrigerated milk. Europeans, however, don’t seem to mind.”

  57. swienke says:

    @ Calli and Rick

    I can guess that equipment is a big factor as well. I don’t know the specifics of the equipment used for either pasteurization procedure, but standard pasteurization can probably be done on a fairly sizable vat of milk, while the high heat and short duration of ultra-pasteurization probably requires something more along the lines of equipment that heats a small diameter tube that the milk is circulated through.

    It’s sort of like the difference between a standard water heater and one of the tankless ones, although I’ll reiterate that I don’t know for sure what equipment they use for pasteurization. If that’s the case though, ultra-pasteurization would be much more expensive up front, and if you combine that with the difference in taste, most dairies probably aren’t going to want to take the leap.

  58. daedalus2u says:

    I would guess that the UHT equipment requires more frequent cleaning. The problem with heating a liquid up quickly is that you need a high temperature gradient to do so. Milk is not something that tolerates high temperatures well, the sugars caramelize, but also the proteins develop a burnt flavor. These things can deposit on the heating surfaces where it is most hot (naturally), and the deposits have a much lower thermal conductivity than the metal or the liquid milk, so naturally the surface (now covered by the milk deposit) gets hotter and eventually so hot that it develops the burnt flavor.

    Irradiating the milk with ionizing radiation would probably be a better treatment. Then it would still be “raw”.

  59. AlexisT says:

    UHT milk definitely tastes different, and not all Europeans like it (the British don’t). Ultrapasteurized cream requires an added stabilizer to whip. The process is used to extend shelf life (regular pasteurized cream expires fairly quickly), and I won’t buy it if I have a choice. It lasts for a month, but the process does nothing for quality.

    I have bought batch-pasteurized (low-temp pasteurization) cream, and it’s good, but I have no idea if the dairy’s claims about the process are meaningful. It’s also Jersey cream, which should make it better (or thicker, at least) and not being ultrapasteurized definitely makes a difference whether it’s HTST or batch.

    I’ve seen some dairies make ridiculous claims about HTST pasteurization and homogenization, such as:

    – Is Homogenized milk healthy? One word…. NO! The milk may look prettier because the cream isn’t on top but it is far from healthy. You see, when you drink Non-Homogenized (when the cream is left in its natural state) your body can digest the cream and use the fat which is in cream for energy and the nutrients that your body needs. Now, on the other hand, when you drink Homogenized milk (when the cream is broken down) your body can not digest the cream in this unnatural state and the fat that is still in the cream gets absorbed into your stomach lining and goes straight into your blood stream. Which of coarse deposits itself in your arteries.

    I don’t buy it. My husband loves creamline milk (he grew up on it), but I find homogenized more convenient. I live in a state where raw milk is legal for retail sale, and I won’t buy it. Shipping it to stores just adds yet another step for bacteria to grow and milk to be improperly stored.

  60. Thanks, Bogeymama, DVMKurmeson, Karl Withakay and Du2 for the interesting thoughts on my question on raw milk consumption by my mom in the 20 and 30 and raw milk consumption now. You’ve given me a lot of variables to consider.

    Of course, aside from the microbes, it appears that raw milk is also more difficult to froth than the standard skim I buy, gotta have my froth.

  61. Regarding kinds pasteurization, I was on a pasteurization research binge a few months ago, due to the fact that the organic milk I bought for the kids wouldn’t froth like my conventional milk. In the U.S. most grocery store milk is regular pasteurized. High priced milks, like lactose free and organic are ultra-pasteurized. They last longer, but still need refrigeration. Ultra-High-Temperature Pasteurization kills all the microbes and can be kept at room temperature.

    Not relevant to the topic, but it appears that more pasteurization makes for better foaming, so I still don’t know why the kids milk won’t foam. Possibly different feed, light conditions, age of milk or the emotional state of said cows.

    Now that we’ve done Milk, I’d really like to see Mark Crislip’s take on sushi.

  62. Calli Arcale says:

    *shrugs* I’ve just never noticed a taste difference between the ultrapasteurized and regular creams. I’ve even made rommegrot out of both successfully (which requires making home-made sour cream).

    Of course, the logical solution is one that the raw milk faddists would probably find even more horrifying — irradiated milk.

  63. lillym says:

    The interesting question is how 20% of the outbreaks occur in states that disallow all forms of raw milk sales.

    I’d assume people are buying raw milk even though it’s totally illegal. If people want something they are going to get it even if they break the law, especially if they think the laws are wrong and unjust.

    There are lots of dairies selling raw milk for “pet consumption only” in Florida but that’s just a label. Dairies are selling it to people who consume it themselves.

    I’m sure in those states that disallow raw milk sales people are finding some way to skirt the laws and get the milk.

  64. AlexisT says:

    There are plenty of illegal milk sales. In NYS, it’s not legal except directly from the farm, but you can find sellers at the greenmarket. In NJ, it’s flat illegal, but people arrange to get it (if you’re really that rabid, it’s not like PA is so far a drive from anywhere in NJ, and we’re a retail-legal state). Ditto Maryland.

    I’ve seen people argue that driving raw milk sales underground actually makes it more dangerous since there’s no control, but I have no stats to either support or counter that claim. If I had to speculate, I’d say that the benefits of legalization may be outweighed by increased sales.

  65. wales says:

    If the sale of raw milk is legal and regulated and the product is held to the same bacterial count and coliform standards as pasteurized, then raw milk poses no greater risks than pasteurized (unless one believes that the 10 states allowing retail raw milk sales are intentionally threatening the health of consumers via some sort of conspiracy). Those who cite outbreaks of illness due to raw milk should provide information about whether or not the milk was tested and met the requirements for the legal standards or whether it was being consumed “under the radar”.

  66. Calli Arcale says:

    I do not believe it is safe to hold raw milk to the same standards as pasteurized milk because the pasteurized milk standards do not involve testing every batch of milk. For raw milk, you’d have to do that, because it’s quite possible for a cow’s to test clean today and not tomorrow. Now, if you tested every single batch of milk from every single cow, you could probably pick out the dangerous ones and discard them (assuming you also gave the raw milk a much shorter expiration date, and it was handled more rigorously than pasteurized milk is) but this is not practical.

    Case in point: we recently had an E. coli outbreak in Minnesota the originated from exactly this condition. The farmer had been testing the milk, and it complied with the standards. Except you can’t test *all* of it, and instead you do periodic checks of each cow’s milk. Well, one cow’s bacteria count, while low during the last test, was a lot higher by the time the health department came by.

    But I do not believe that “the 10 states allowing retail raw milk sales are intentionally threatening the health of consumers via some sort of conspiracy”. I believe they are naive, not malicious, or have a genuine difference of opinion about whether or not people should be allowed to take this particular risk if they choose.

  67. wales says:

    “I believe they are naive, not malicious, or have a genuine difference of opinion about whether or not people should be allowed to take this particular risk if they choose.” You have a point there Calli. However, since tobacco and alcohol are legal nationwide, despite the abundant evidence of their contribution to injury, illness and mortality, it is interesting to ponder how a consensus of some sort was reached in favor of legalizing those products.

  68. clgood says:

    I think “organic” is a marketing term of art which allows charging more for inferior goods, and I understand why it’s important to pasteurize milk. But, let me tell you, once while visiting the dairy ranch of a guy i trusted a lot I had a glass of milk that had gone directly from the cow to his refrigerator.

    The taste was a near religious experience. It’s quite possible that most of that was due to the high cream content and not the lack of heat treatment. So, while I have no plans to consume raw milk (especially from a supplier selling “organic” anything), a tiny part of me understands the urge.

  69. clgood – my concern with conventional milk is not the pasteurization process. At this point it is the use of antibiotics, bit about that.

    I’m not a medical person, so I can not really speak to the actual risks, but it concerns me.

    That is a different topic though.

  70. wales says:

    I’m with you on that one, Michele. I am also concerned about the use of rBST. US allows it, but Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have banned rBST/rBGH, or so I have read.

  71. Brookster says:

    I grew up in the north of England drinking unpasteurised milk. (According to my mother, the herd was regularly tested and the milk was filtered. But nothing else.)

    I didn’t (maybe fortuitously) suffer gastro-intestinally from the experience. It certainly tastes different and after an adult life of drinking half-fat, I don’t think I could go back to it.

    However, I was just as sickly as any other child in my neighbourhood, so am a little sceptical of its health benefits. I am, however, a sample size of one.

  72. Imadgeine says:

    There is a short article in this week’s New Scientist about the feasibility of using UV to render milk safe to drink.

  73. yeahsurewhatever says:

    Pasteurization is, in my opinion, the most important discovery of modern science. If Norman Borlaug can be credited with saving a billion lives, Louis Pasteur can be credited with saving at least as many, though I can’t think of a reasonable way to even estimate the number. Also bear in mind that Pasteur was trying to discover a way to make beer and wine keep on the shelf longer. Just goes to show you.

    As a farm owner myself, and living in farm country, I can attest that raw milk tastes better. However, it’s not especially “better for you”. If you don’t have ready access to it, you don’t want to go out and buy it. Don’t buy unpasteurized milk.

    Also, since the topic is obliquely related, “irradiated food” does not, repeat DOES NOT mean “radioactive food.” Get that out of your head, dude who rails against these things.

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