The most important public threat of disease in the 1900s was from the consumption of pathogen-carrying raw milk, before the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance was put in place in 1924. French chemist Louis Pasteur’s pasteurization technique developed in the 1860s has helped decimate foodborne illness in dairy products even to this day.

But like the attraction to games of chance, consumers have to push the safety envelope and ignore what has been scientifically proven to keep them safe, and instead embrace the unscientifically proven benefits and risk the very real dangers of consuming raw milk products.

At the March National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) annual meeting in Kansas City, Mo., Purnendu Vasavada, MS, PhD, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, said raw milk from cows or small ruminants can contain and support many dangerous pathogens such as bacteria, yeasts molds and some viruses. The FDA states that raw milk can include, but is not limited to:

  • Enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Salmonella species
  • E. coli (EHEC) (ETEC)
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Brucella species (abortus –cattle) (melitensis- goats)
  • Coxiella burnetii
  • Yersinia enterocolitica

Vasavada noted that milk is a major media component and that a lots of organisms will easily grow in it, as will yeasts and molds. “Cows can eat moldy feed and mycotoxins can come through the milk,” he said. “The cheese made from that same raw milk will have a higher concentration.”

Pathogens naturally occur in the environment and can easily be spread. For example, Klebsiella is common in organic bedding material.   “Once you have contamination, it seeds the milk systematically,” Vasavada said. “Equipment is another thing. Small farmers may not think they have to clean as much because there are fewer cows. But you don’t have the freedom to hurt someone else by your ignorance or inability to do certain things such as keep equipment clean.”

Most scientific, government and veterinary organizations including the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments oppose the sale and consumption of raw milk products because of the dangers of foodborne illness.

An article in the January 2010 Food Safety News suggest, “…if you are a person who is deliberately choosing to consume raw milk or raw milk products in spite of the abundant scientific evidence and federal, state, and local health agency-investigated outbreaks that have linked devastating human illness to the consumption of raw milk, then please do not give it to those most at risk -- children, the elderly, pregnant women, and any person with a compromised immune system.”

Raw milk continues to cause illness and outbreaks, Vasavada said, citing numerous cases in the U.S. and worldwide. “There are inadequate regulations restricting raw milk products. Outbreaks are more common and there is more severe illness. Consumers need to be educated about the health risks of consuming raw milk products.”