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The risks of consuming raw milk

Developing a healthy lifestyle involves many decisions. Some people think about adding raw milk to their diet. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized (heated to a specific temperature for a set amount of time) to kill harmful germs that may be in it. Because these germs usually don’t change the look, taste, or smell of milk, pasteurization is the best way to make sure your milk is safe.

Raw milk can contain harmful germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can make you very sick or possibly kill you. If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it has health benefits, consider other options.

Raw milk is unpasteurized milk from any type animal and can carry harmful bacteria including Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.  Getting sick from raw milk can mean many days of diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. Less commonly, it can mean kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders, and even death.

The chance of getting sick from drinking raw milk is greater for infants and young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems–like people with cancer, an organ transplant, or HIV—than it is for healthy older children and adults. However, healthy people of any age can get very sick or even die if they drink raw milk contaminated with harmful germs.

To lower the chances of getting sick from milk and milk products choose pasteurized milk and milk products. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label. If in doubt, don’t buy it!

Keep milk and milk products refrigerated at 40°F or colder, and throw away any expired milk or milk products to lower your chance of getting sick.

If you eat soft cheeses, make sure they are made from pasteurized milk. Soft cheeses include queso fresco, queso blanco, panela (queso panela), brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and feta.

Many people believe that foods with little or no processing are better for their health. However, some types of processing are needed to protect our health. We make raw meat, poultry, and fish safe to eat by cooking these foods. We make milk safe by heating it just long enough to kill disease-causing germs when it’s pasteurized. Most nutrients remain in milk even after it is pasteurized.

If you are thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it is a good source of beneficial bacteria, you need to know that you may instead get sick from drinking it. Pasteurized fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir, contain bacteria that are safe to eat.

In Texas, raw milk may only be sold direct to the consumer at the farm where it was produced. Raw milk from “certified, “organic,” or “local” dairies is not guaranteed to be safe. Only pasteurization can make milk safe to drink. There are small farms that offer pasteurized organic milk and products made from it.

Most foodborne illnesses are not part of a recognized outbreak, and for every outbreak and every illness reported, many others occur.  Raw milk-related outbreaks are more common in states that allow the legal sale of raw milk for people to drink than in states that do not allow its sale. In addition, raw milk sales in one state can lead to outbreaks in neighboring states.

When it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones from foodborne illnesses, it is best to avoid raw milk – it’s just not worth the risk.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information about this or other topics, contact the Taylor County Extension Office, 325-672-6048 or email l-rowan@tamu.edu for more information.



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