by Marion Nestle
Aug 8 2007

Raw Milk or Raw Deal?

This must be the week for talking about raw milk. The Washington Post and the New York Times both ran stories about the push to be able to drink raw milk, legal or not. Why do people want raw milk? Some like the taste, some swear by its health benefits, some believe in a natural, raw food ideology, and some just don’t like the government telling them what not to eat. The health benefits are supposed to be that raw milk contains enzymes and good bacteria that get destroyed by pasteurization (which heats milk to a temperature that kills most bacteria, bad and good). Food safety officials, on the other hand, cringe at the idea of feeding unpasteurized dairy foods to anyone, let alone children. Cow’s milk is not sterile and there are all too many instances in which harmful bacteria in whole milk made people sick, and sometimes very sick. Drinking raw milk is risky. How risky? It’s hard to say. If you know your dairy is following rigorous food safety procedures, there’s a good chance that its products are OK. But what if you don’t? When it comes to milk, I prefer mine pasteurized. The enzymes in milk get destroyed during digestion anyway, so why take a chance? Cheeses, however, are another matter. As long as they are properly aged and salted, raw milk cheeses ought to be just fine. Even so, I’m happier about eating them when I know that their producer is following a carefully designed safety plan with monitoring and testing for harmful bacteria. If I don’t know this, I just have to trust the seller and hope for the best. Raw milk generates intense passion on both sides. But why so much? Do tell.