How Safe is Raw Milk?

June 3, 2011

Scientists have recently discovered MRSA bacteria in raw milk. Once milk is pasteurized, it's perfectly safe. But people are increasingly singing the praises of raw milk. So how safe is raw milk? 

Here's what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Have to say about raw milk. Spoiler alert: it's not pretty. 

1. Raw milk is one of the riskiest foods you can eat for contacting a food borne illness. 

2. The risk of getting sick from drinking raw milk is greater for infants and young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, an organ transplant, or HIV/AIDS, than it is for healthy school-aged children and adults. But, it is important to remember that healthy people of any age can get very sick or even die if they drink raw milk contaminated with harmful germs.

3. Raw milk can cause serious infections. Raw milk and raw milk products (such as cheeses and yogurts made with raw milk) can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death. These harmful bacteria include BrucellaCampylobacterListeria,Mycobacterium bovisSalmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coliShigellaStreptococcus pyogenes, andYersinia enterocolitica.

4. How does raw milk get contaminated? 

  • Cow feces coming into direct contact with the milk
  • Infection of the cow’s udder (mastitis)
  • Cow diseases (e.g., bovine tuberculosis)
  • Bacteria that live on the skin of cows
  • Environment (e.g., feces, dirt, processing equipment)
  • Insects, rodents, and other animal vectors
  • Humans, for example, by cross-contamination from soiled clothing and boots
  • Pasteurization is the only way to kill many of the bacteria in milk that can make people very sick.

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Andrea Smith's picture

The only thing I wonder is, what did people do before pasteurization? Or what about people who live on a small farm or ranch and raise their own milk cows for the family? Is it because when the milk is fresh, it's safer and only after distribution does it have time for the bacteria to grow?

Mickie's picture

It becomes contaminated by a jillion milk cows shoved into small spaces, over milked, then the milk pushed through a dirty pipe into a holding tank before being put through another tube and piped into a truck that was cleaned with toxic chemicals and then shipped to a processing plant, put through another tube into a tank and then..... PASTEURIZED :) and NOW ......I can take a breath.

Katherine's picture

What did people do before pasteurized milk? They died. To begin with infants and young children were breastfed until 5 or 6 years old . When pasteurization (achieved with heating to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds) came in to being during the 1920's it was credited with a reduction in 90% of infectious diseases and their deaths dues to E. coli, salmonella and listeria.
When you milk your own cow you know the equipment is clean and that the cows have been properly disinfected with know if a cow has mastitis..I wouldn't touch raw milk that I didn't follow from udder to table with a ten foot pole. That said I love raw milk but I live in the city and will only buy's not worth the risk.

Kenya's picture

What did they do before pasteurization? They got sick. People, children especially, became very sick from drinking milk. This is why the discovery of pasteurization was such a big deal. Obviously if you are a consenting adult, you should be able to make whatever choice you want but let's not pretend that the risks are not significantly higher. Curently there are almost no reported instances of food Bourne illness from milk. If only 5% of raw milk drinkers get sick that is a dramatic increase in both relative and absolute terms particularly given the number of people that consume milk every year.


I grow up on a raw milk and so did everyone in my family, included my kids. We are very health and have never been sick.. So we disagree with this study..


We have more health rules than most stores...

Mickie's picture


The FDA isn't capable of monitoring the mass milk producing companies so their solution is to leave all that funk in the milk and render it "harmless" by superheating it. I think I'd rather drink clean raw milk than pasteurized milk with feces, puss, and blood in it.

Know who is handling your food. Know HOW to handle your own food. Raw milk is COMPLETELY safe if you handle it properly.

Carlos 's picture

Why all this noise? Just buy your raw milk (if you have acces to it) and pasteurize it yourself!

Cynthia's picture

I suffered from Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome since my first cycle. My testosterone level hit an all time high of 96. The highest level for a woman should be 71. I totally revamped my diet to all organic, grass fed, and a yea after that I switched to raw milk. In a year after going to raw milk, my testosterone level dropped to a whopping 46!!!!! Eleven months later at the age of 38, I was able to get pregnant for the first time! Hmmm. My doctor cannot explain it, yet dismisses my diet. How is it millions of people had raw milk for thousands of years and humanity seemed to go on.

Cynthia's picture

One last note to the FDA: treat us like adults that can make our own decisions.