by Marion Nestle
Jul 26 2010

Food safety: what about Pasteurized milk?

Taking about raw milk stirs up a can of worms, with plenty of ideology governing opinions on all sides.  My posting of Bill Marler’s list of recent raw milk outbreaks a couple of days ago elicited much heat and one appropriate question: How do raw milk outbreaks compare to outbreaks from Pasteurized milk.

People must be asking Marler the same question, because he has just answered it.   Outbreaks from pasteurized milk products do occur, but they are rare, especially because far more people drink Pasteurized than raw milk.    Here is his summary table.  He puts the supporting documentation on the real raw milk facts website.

And here is the CDC’s Q and A on raw milk.

My view: yes, people should have the right to drink raw milk if they want to, but they need to know—and take responsibility for—the risks.  And everyone who produces raw milk should use a HACCP (preventive control) plan and stick to it in letter and in spirit.

Addition: I’ve just been sent links to three Los Angeles Times stories about a raid (with drawn guns, yet) on a Venice grocery store selling raw milk.  A long piece explains what this is about and includes a video of the raid.  A third story talks about the debates about raw milk, also with a video.

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  • It’s funny because unpasteurized milk is legal in PA where I’m from, but I rarely ever see it for purchase. Over here in London, raw milk seems to be everywhere.

  • B. Koch

    I’ve had raw milk, still warm out of the cow. It is disgusting! I don’t know why anyone would want to drink it.

  • The ironic thing that i find in this debate is that many of the people I encounter that are pro-raw milk are also tend to be in the anti-vaccination camp. If one were to compare the risks of illness from consuming raw milk and risk of adverse side effects from a vaccination, I’m sure they must be similar? Or I would expect less risk to be associated with the vaccine? I am having trouble getting actual data on this. I may sort it out and do a post on it. Naturalists tend to vilify all of the policy from Pasteur’s legacy. I find it curious.

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  • tBoy

    How about this for an idea? For those who are afraid of raw milk – buy whole raw milk & use a home pasteurizer or just continue to buy the imitation, factory farmed stuff from the grocery store.

    We all know that nearly every bit of chicken from the grocery store is contaminated but it is sold that way assuming people will cook it themselves. Cook your milk if you want but leave me alone to decide for myself just like factory farmed chicken, pork, beef, or fish.

    This is correctly called a “double standard”?.

  • @Joanna, I would expect that there is FAR less risk of experiencing a serious adverse event from a vaccine than of catching a food borne illness from raw milk, just based on the population sizes.

    Despite the recent anti-vax nuttiness, the number of children getting vaccines is huge in comparison to the number of people drinking raw milk. Serious adverse events from vaccines are extremely rare, despite this large population.

    If you do attempt to run some numbers on this, you’ll have to differentiate between a serious adverse event and running a slight fever for a day.

  • Tom

    You seem to cite Mr. Maler a lot on this site, it should be noted Mr. Maler is a trial lawyer who makes a living suing people-preferably, corporations with deep pockets. He’s not an expert on health. All this talk of food safety and outbreaks of raw vs pasteurized neglects the other side of the equation, namely, the health benefits. Personally, I think for people living in large urban areas who buy food at large retail foodstores, pasteurization is probably necessary, but I know plenty of people who grew up on dairy farms that drank raw milk growing up and are perfectly healthy.

    (The world record holder in the bench press back in the 1970s -Larry Pacifico-used to admonish young weightlifters that were trying to gain weight to drink milk. And I’ve found that I gain at least a pound of week when I drink (cows) milk. I wonder if anyone has looked at the adverse effects of this weight gain on Americans vs people who consume water and the like? )

    We need an analysis of what happens to all the nutrients when you subject milk to high heat-not like nature intended. Mr. Marler doesn’t look at that.

  • Kelly

    Re: vaccines

    As a comparison, about 1 in every 1,000 people that get campylobacteriosis develop GBS (a flaccid paralysis syndrome post-infection). In contrast, about 1 in every 1 million people who get a flu vaccine develops GBS. Campylobacter is most often due to eating contaminated food…not just raw milk, but the statistics show that your odds of having a serious complication are worse from eating contaminated food than getting a fluvaccination:

  • MA

    Raw milk and vaccines should BOTH be a choice. Where is our freedom to choose what to eat – good, bad, healthy, unhealthy- or to choose what to inject (or not) into our bodies?

  • me

    Seriously, you people who like to write, but never actually think about the other side of the issue make me sick.

    Why do people feel so strongly about raw milk? Why do you think that, just because scientists have come up with a way to destroy all bacteria, whether good or bad, in milk, everyone should be forced to drink processed milk, if they want milk at all? How about we all just go live in bubbles so that our skin never sees bacteria? Or how about we never have physically intimate interactions with our spouse ever again, since so many bacteria are transferred in the process?

    Grow a pair and live. The limiting of freedom (and the precedence being set by such an act) is why people are upset. You don’t see raw milk drinkers running around yelling that processed milk should be illegal to sell, so why yell at people who want the liberty to drink raw milk? Hypocrites.

  • Stephen

    I drink raw milk from a quality producer all the time. It tastes great! Pasteurization really does kill the flavor. It makes the milk taste unnaturally sweet and gives it an an unnatural bright white color. Pasteurization only became the norm because urban herds in the early 20th century were kept in squalid conditions.

    I think the statistic bear out that tainted vegetables sicken or kill people almost on a regular basis. Why all the fuss over milk? Humans have been consuming raw milk for several thousand years. If a herd is kept in sanitary conditions and the cows allowed to eat their natural diet of grass, there is no problem.