3 Things You Should Know About Raw Milk


Raw milk is unpasteurized milk from any animal and can contain many harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

Raw milk is unpasteurized milk from any animal and can contain many harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Unfortunately, raw milk outbreaks are on the rise in the United States. In fact, the risk of an outbreak caused by raw milk is at least 150 times greater than the risk caused by pasteurized milk.1 Pharmacists can play an important role in educating patients regarding food safety tips. Check out these 3 facts about the dangers of consuming raw milk.

  • Consuming raw milk can cause serious adverse effects.

Adverse effects associated with consuming raw milk include diarrhea, stomach cramping, vomiting, kidney failure, paralysis, and death. Raw milk may contain harmful germs including Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.1 Educate patients that there are no known health benefits from consuming raw milk that cannot be obtained from drinking pasteurized milk that is free from disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Dispel common myths that raw milk can prevent or cure diseases including asthma, allergies, heart disease, or cancer.

Milk contamination can occur through the following:

  • Cow feces coming into direct contact with milk
  • Cow diseases (e.g. bovine tuberculosis)
  • Insects and rodents
  • Humans through cross contamination
  • Bacteria living on the skin of cows
  • Cow udder infection (mastitis)

2. Certain populations are at greater risk of infection.

Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients are at greater risk of developing an infection from consuming raw milk. However, healthy individuals can also become sick from consuming raw milk.

The number of outbreaks in the United States caused by raw milk consumption increased from 30 in 2007-2009 to 51 in 2010-2012.2 Most (77%) outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter and a majority (81%) of cases occurred from the consumption of raw milk purchased from states where sales are legal.2 Additionally, children under 5 years of age were at the highest risk of illness from consuming raw milk.2 The study also found that raw milk sales in one state can lead to outbreaks in neighboring states.

3. States have raw milk laws.

The federal government, through the US FDA does not permit raw milk sales for human consumption and advises states to prohibit the practice. Since the FDA does not regulate raw milk, it can only be sold in the state where it was purchased and cannot be sold across state lines or internationally. The federal government allows only Grade A pasteurized milk to be sold to consumers. However, 31 states allow individuals to purchase raw milk directly at the farm, famers’ markets, or through “cow share” programs where consumers combine resources to purchase a dairy cow.3 Twelve states permit consumers to purchase raw milk at retail stores.3

Educate patients to check at farmers markets that the products contain pasteurized milk, as these venues have become popular across the United States.


  • Raw (unpasteurized milk). CDC website. https://www.cdc.gov/features/rawmilk/index.html. Accessed February 24, 2017.
  • Increase in outbreaks associated with nonpasteurized milk, United States, 2007-2012. CDC website. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/nonpasteurized-outbreaks-2012.html. Accessed February 25, 2017.
  • State milk laws. NCSL website. http://www.ncsl.org/research/agriculture-and-rural-development/raw-milk-2012.aspx#1. Accessed February 25, 2017.

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