RRMF graphic.jpgFrom Real Raw Milk Facts:  The use of heat is central to the culinary arts and dates back to the beginning of human civilization. Heat enhances the flavor of animal- and plant-based foods. Heat is also a way to destroy harmful germs that can cause disease or spoil the food. Pasteurization is the term used to describe the use of heat to kill harmful pathogens and spoilage organisms in beverages, especially milk and juices. Pasteurization is not the same as sterilization, so eventually pasteurized milk will spoil and must be kept in the refrigerator. Pasteurization was introduced over 100 years ago to combat diseases and reduce infant mortality from contaminated raw milk.

Despite widespread acceptance of the pasteurization process to reduce the possibility of foodborne infection acquired from dairy products, and scientific opinion that pasteurized dairy products are equally nutritious as compared to their raw counterparts, a segment of the population continues to consume and support the sale of raw milk. 

Raw milk and products such as cheeses made from raw milk are proven vehicles for many foodborne illnesses including salmonellosis, yersiniosis, E. coli-associated hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), brucellosis, listeriosis, typhoid fever, Campylobacter enteritis, Q fever, and cryptosporidosis.  Although some of the diseases acquired from raw are mild and/or self-limited, others can be deadly or have long-term debilitating consequences.  Notably, E. coli O157 causes afflictions of the kidneys of young children and if not fatal, the survivors will risk lifetime kidney disease and may require dialysis or kidney transplants.  Listeria infections are most profound among pregnant women, often causing loss of the fetus, and the very old where death is a frequent consequence.  Campylobacter and other bacteria can cause lifetime complications such as paralysis, joint afflictions, and chronic digestive disorders that debilitate their victims.  Q-fever often results in infections of the heart that may require surgical intervention.  Brucellosis is often difficult to diagnose and may progress to complications that are costly to society as well as to the afflicted. 

Today, there is a vast amount of information available to the consumer about the consumption of raw milk through electronic media and the Internet. There is no guarantee that all information is validated through science and research. Many public health agencies, academia, and the medical community offer valid information based on sound science and research. There are just as many other entities that provide undocumented testimony and information that may be dangerous and can mislead the consumer into believing raw milk/products are safe to consume and provide for their families, including infants and small children. Through these mistaken beliefs in the healing properties of raw milk and products, many families have suffered, and had children exposed to life-threatening diseases, that can possibly lead to life-long health issues including kidney disease. These families have provided their experiences to the public on video in an effort to save other families from the pain of going through this experience. One mother, Mary McGonigle-Martin, writes about her experience of buying raw milk in hope of finding relief for her son’s allergies, but instead almost lost him due to an E. coli O157:H7 infection linked to commercial raw milk in California.  Read the whole story:  “Raw Milk:  A Mother’s Story.”

While some states have achieved improvements in hygiene through regulation to make raw milk safer, the risk of pathogens present in raw milk remains higher than other foods. For this reason, many states require a warning label about risk of disease from raw milk/products on the bottle, or at the point-of-sale.  Although illnesses from pasteurized milk and other dairy products have resulted from inadequate pasteurization or post-processing contamination (for example, contaminated milk containers), the frequency of outbreaks and illnesses is much lower compared with raw milk/products. In particular, the most severe illnesses from any dairy products are among children given raw milk.  In just the first half of 2012, there have been 6 publicized outbreaks due to raw milk consumption in 8 states resulting in 152 illnesses and 4 hospitalizations (all children). In comparison, there were 7 raw milk outbreaks and 60 illnesses during all of 2011 as shown in this table. No outbreaks have been described from pasteurized milk in 2012. In 2011, one outbreak with 16 illnesses was linked to pasteurized milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania.

The primary purpose of this Legislation Packet is to demonstrate the risk of raw milk/raw cheese and other raw dairy product consumption as compared to pasteurized dairy products, and recommend against expanding the availability of raw milk/dairy products for retail sales.  Materials were drawn from the literature and information provided by Real Raw Milk Facts, a website created by a working group comprising scientists and public health advocates around the country.  Recommendations call for:

  • Limits on the sale of raw milk
  • Producers to carry insurance sufficient to cover damages sustained by individuals who become ill with foodborne illness as a result of consuming their raw milk products
  • Warning labels regarding the health consequences of raw milk
  • Limits on the sale of raw milk in grocery stores and other retail outlets

Download the full Raw Milk Legislation Packet