If you drink raw milk, you are 100 times more likely to get foodborne illness than if you drink pasteurized milk, a new study shows.
In fact, raw milk is associated with more than half of all milk-related foodborne illness, even though only an estimated 3.5 percent of the population in the United States drinks it.
Some advocates claim that unpasteurized is healthier and tastes better than pasteurized milk. But a new study shows the risks are better understood than the benefits. More research is needed to determine if the health claims are legitimate.
“The risks of consuming raw milk instead of pasteurized milk are well-established in the scientific literature and in some cases can have severe or even fatal consequences,” says Cissy Li, a graduate student in environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Based on our findings, we discourage the consumption of raw milk, especially among vulnerable populations such as the elderly, people with impaired immune systems, pregnant women, and children.”
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future conducted an analysis of past scientific research that was prepared at the request of the Maryland House of Delegates’ Health and Operations Committee, which was considering a bill to relax regulations that prohibit sale of unpasteurized milk in the state. The team presented its report to lawmakers last month.
Raw milk has gained popularity in recent years, though in many states it is available for purchase only at farms. Advocates believe that raw milk, which contains more natural antibodies, proteins, and bacteria than pasteurized milk, is healthier, cleaner, and tastes better and that it reduces lactose intolerance and allergies in certain people.
A ‘far safer choice’
Pasteurization—named after Louis Pasteur, the French chemist and microbiologist who invented the process—involves heating milk to destroy microbes in the milk supply from fecal contamination, dairy operations, cow udders, or other sources. Treated milk is hermetically sealed to prevent recontamination.
The report reviews 81 published scientific journal articles relevant to the health risks and benefits of consuming raw cow’s milk.
“Ultimately, the scientific literature showed that the risk of foodborne illness from raw milk is over 100 times greater than the risk of foodborne illness from pasteurized milk,” says report lead author Benjamin Davis, also a graduate student in environmental health sciences.
“Although potential benefits related to the consumption of raw milk would benefit from further investigation, we believe that, from a public health perspective, it is a far safer choice to discourage the consumption of raw milk.”
Microbial contaminants commonly found in milk include infectious Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria species along with the most dangerous form of E. coli.
These bacteria can cause foodborne illness in humans, including diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, fevers, and sometimes more serious consequences such as kidney failure or death.
Source: Johns Hopkins University