The Dangers of Drinking Raw Milk

What is raw milk?

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria.

What does the New York State Department of Health recommend about the consumption of raw milk or raw milk products?

The New York State Department of Health strongly recommends that people DO NOT CONSUME any raw milk or raw milk products. The New York State Department of Health recommends consuming only milk and milk products that have been pasteurized.

What are the recommendations from other agencies about consuming raw milk or raw milk products?

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical, veterinary and scientific organizations recommend consuming only pasteurized milk and milk products.

What is pasteurization?

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill disease-causing bacteria contained in the milk and has been used safely for over 100 years. Pasteurization of milk became widespread in the United States by 1950. Pasteurization is the only way to ensure that milk products do not contain harmful bacteria.

Do products made from raw milk carry dangerous bacteria?

Yes. Other foods made with raw milk include soft cheeses, sour cream, yogurt and ice cream. Any food made with raw milk can contain dangerous bacteria and consuming these foods can make you very sick.

What kinds of harmful bacteria can raw milk contain?

Raw milk can contain dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia, Brucella, Coxiella and Listeria.

Can these bacteria be especially dangerous to certain people?

Yes. The bacteria in raw milk can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk or eats foods made from raw milk. The bacteria can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

What symptoms can people have if they become ill from drinking raw milk with these bacteria?

Most commonly, bacteria in raw milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, fever, headache and body aches. In some instances, people can develop pneumonia, blood-stream infections, kidney failure, inflammation of the nervous system (meningitis), chronic liver disease or chronic heart disease from drinking raw milk. While some people will have mild illness from bacteria in raw milk, others are at much higher risk of life-threatening illness, especially pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems (such as people with cancer or HIV infection or recipients of organ transplants).

How many people in the United States have become ill from consuming raw milk or raw milk products?

Since 1993, over 70 outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk have been reported nationwide, affecting over 1,500 people and causing 185 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. The actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is far greater.

What should I do if I become ill after drinking raw milk or eating a product made with raw milk?

If you or someone you know becomes ill after consuming raw milk or products made from raw milk, see a doctor or health care provider immediately, especially if you are pregnant or at higher risk for developing severe illness.

Does pasteurizing milk reduce its nutritional value?

No. The pasteurization process does not change the nutritional value of milk.

Does pasteurization cause disease, developmental problems or behavioral problems?

No. Pasteurization has never been shown to cause disease or other health problems.

Does pasteurization cause lactose intolerance or allergic reactions?

No. Pasteurization has never been shown to contribute to lactose intolerance or other allergic health problems.

How does New York State regulate the sale of raw milk?

In New York State, raw milk may only be sold at dairy farms that hold a permit from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Permitted farms are required to maintain proper sanitation, animal health, packaging procedures, monthly inspections, routine sampling and testing and post signs that warn that raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization.

Where can I see a complete copy of the rules and regulations regarding raw milk sales in New York?

Requirements for the Production, Processing, Manufacturing and Distribution of Milk and Milk Products: www.agriculture.ny.gov/DI/Laws%20in%20PDF/PART2_milk_control_law.pdf.

Where can I get additional information about the risks of consuming raw milk?

Visit the following resources: