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Raw Milk Consumption Risks

10:57AM Jan 27, 2014

By: Alvaro Garcia, Professor & Dairy Specialist, SDSU Extension

Almost a century ago producers and processors alike, understood milk was a potential source for growth of microorganisms and could cause health problems if not handled properly. It was through regulation policies consumers were protected from diseases transmitted by drinking raw milk. Over time this created a partnership of trust among: producers, industry, and consumers. This feeling of safety has been passed on through generations that have only seen milk-borne illnesses as a rarity.

Improvement in animal health programs almost eradicated pathogenic organisms that were frequent early in the twentieth century. Best management practices such as hygienic milk harvesting have also helped reduce contamination that occurred once milk left the udder. On-farm refrigeration further reduced the multiplication of bacteria that haphazardly may have reached milk. Pasteurization was the final link added to the milk quality chain. Chicago passed the first compulsory milk pasteurization law in 1908. The 1987 FDA ban of interstate raw milk sales probably helped accomplish this. The legality of its sale was left to each state’s government.

In recent times though there’s a segment of society that advocates going back to drinking raw milk. Over the last 20 years the risk of milk-borne diseases has increased with outbreaks nearly doubling between 1993 and 2006 compared to the 73’-92’ period. February 2012 saw one of the largest milk-borne outbreaks of recent times with 80 cases and nine hospitalizations confirmed in a four-state area. In this case it was a Campylobacter infection, an organism frequent in the digestive system of animals.

If consumers desire to purchase milk directly from a dairy they can take steps to reduce the chance of illness by pasteurizing at home. Milk can be pasteurized at home by heating it briefly on the stove-top to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 seconds, and then cool quickly.

To learn more about the risks associated with the consumption of raw milk, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.