Raw Milk Means Real Risks

Raw milk has health risks especially for children and pregnant women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Milk is one of the most common and popular drinks in the US. But it doesn't usually go straight from the cow to your doorstep.

Milk sold in stores is pasteurized, which means it's heated long enough to kill any harmful bacteria in it.

Drinking raw, or unpasteurized, milk involves significant health risks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP issued a statement about the health risks of raw milk particularly for children and for pregnant women.

"Drink only pasteurized milk."

The statement was authored by two AAP committees — the Committee on Infectious Diseases and the Committee on Nutrition  — led by Yvonne A. Maldonado, MD.

The statement emphasized the health risks associated with drinking raw milk, especially for pregnant women, the elderly, immuno-compromised individuals, and for infants and children.

Raw milk is unpasteurized milk. Pasteurizing milk requires heating it to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than 15 seconds and then rapidly cooling it down.

These health risks involve possible infections caused by a range of bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, Brucella, and Escherichia coli.

Many individuals have heard of food-borne illness involving Salmonella, Listeria, or E. coli. Some of these bacterial infections can be deadly.

Between 1998 and 2009, the authors reported that consuming raw milk products led to 93 outbreaks of illness, which included 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and two deaths.

During this time, "Thirteen percent percent of patients involved in raw milk or milk product food-borne illness outbreaks were hospitalized, compared with 1 percent of patients involved in outbreaks associated with pasteurized products," they wrote.

Nevertheless, the authors estimated that approximately 1 percent to 3 percent of all dairy products consumed in the US are unpasteurized.

The authors wrote that selling raw milk is still legal in at least 30 states in the US and that attempts "to limit the sale of raw milk products have met with opposition" from individuals who promote health benefits of raw milk.

These benefits supposedly include receiving proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins and enzymes that are negatively affected by pasteurization, according to raw milk proponents.

Yet, evidence from scientific studies have not shown that drinking raw milk actually has any additional health benefits over pasteurized milk.

Meanwhile, no scientific studies have found risks related to pasteurization for any health problems.

"Substantial data suggest that pasteurized milk confers equivalent health benefits compared with raw milk, without the additional risk of bacterial infections," the authors wrote.

Therefore, the risks of drinking raw milk outweigh any possible health benefits that supposedly come from it, the authors added.

Pregnant women in particular are at high risk for bacterial infections from raw milk.

The authors reported that rates of toxoplasmosis is five times higher among pregnant women who consume raw milk than among those who don't.

Listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria bacteria, can lead to stillbirths, preterm delivery and newborn infections including meningitis or pneumonia.

Children have also been involved in the majority of outbreaks related to raw milk, the authors wrote.

In 1987, the Food and Drug Administration passed a ban on transporting raw dairy products across state lines, but raw milk within each state is regulated by that state's laws only.

The FDA ban has an exception for unpasteurized cheese that is labeled and has been aged at least 60 days.

However, the authors noted that E. coli can last on cheese beyond 60 days of aging.

Outbreaks related to E. coli in unpasteurized cheese have occurred in Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The authors noted that a range of medical and health organizations besides the FDA also recommend that individuals consume exclusively pasteurized milk products.

These include the American Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the International Association for Food Protection, the National Environmental Health Association and the World Health Association.

The statement appeared December 16 in the journal Pediatrics. The statement was not funded externally. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
December 15, 2013
Last Updated:
December 16, 2013