Raw Milk

March 10, 2011

What’s a building block in the food pyramid that’s important for building and maintaining bone mass? It’s milk. Whether it’s from cows, goats, sheep, or another mammal, milk and milk products are an important source of calcium throughout a person’s life.

Most of the milk sold in the United States is pasteurized, a process during which the milk is heated to 161 degrees and kept there for 15 seconds. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria—including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria—that can contaminate milk before it gets to your table.

Milk Pasteurization

Pasteurization of milk is an effective means of preventing outbreaks of foodborne illness, including tuberculosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis, scarlet fever, and listeriosis. It was first used in the United States more than 100 years ago and has been widely used for more than a half-century, says John Sheehan, an FDA expert on the safety of dairy products. But increasingly, consumers are seeing “raw” milk—and cheeses, yogurts, and other products made from it—in specialty shops, farmers’ markets, and stores.

Although the heating process slightly affects a few of the vitamins—thiamine, vitamin B6 and folic acid within the B-complex, and vitamin C, the changes are not significant. Meanwhile, there is a risk that milk could be contaminated by environmental factors such as soil or animal feces, animal diseases, or bacteria on an animal’s skin.

In countries where pasteurization of milk is less common, outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to tainted milk or milk products occur more frequently than they do in the United States. In France, for example, the rate of foodborne illness attributed to milk and milk products was reported to be roughly three times what it is in the U.S., citing a 2001 study by researcher Marie-Laure De Buyser and other French scientists.

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