Proponents of unpasteurized (raw) milk often tout it as being natural, tasting better, and providing protection against asthma and seasonal allergies. They usually downplay its health risks, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not.
Total milk production in the United States in 2010 was estimated at 193 billion pounds, with about 99% of dairy products—cheese and milk—being pasteurized. Pasteurization uses heat to eliminate most harmful pathogens in dairy products and to extend the products’ shelf life. Many raw milk advocates argue pasteurization also kills beneficial bacteria and diminishes vitamin content.
A CDC review of state and local health departments’ reports of foodborne disease outbreaks, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, found that the majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks between 1993 and 2006 were linked to nonpasteurized dairy products. The study included 121 dairy-related disease outbreaks, which caused 4413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths. Raw milk products caused 60% of the outbreaks and 84% of the hospitalizations. The researchers also found that 60% of outbreaks associated with nonpasteurized dairy products involved individuals younger than age 20 years. And with less than an estimated 1% of the population consuming raw milk products, the researchers suggested that the incidence of reported outbreaks involving nonpasteurized dairy products was about 150 times greater, per unit of dairy product consumed, than the incidence involving pasteurized products.
Coauthor Barbara Mahon, MD, MPH, deputy chief of the enteric diseases epidemiology branch at the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, said in a release, “While some people think that raw milk has more health benefits than pasteurized milk, this study shows that raw milk has great risks, especially for children, who experience more severe illnesses if they get sick. Parents who have lived through the experience of watching their child fight for their life after drinking raw milk now say that it’s just not worth the risk.”