Raw (Unpasteurized) Milk

Dairy products

If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it has health benefits, consider other options. Raw milk can contain harmful germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, that can make you very sick.

Raw milk is milk from any animal that has not been pasteurized (heated to a specific temperature for a set amount of time) to kill harmful germs. Because these germs usually don’t change the look, taste, or smell of milk, pasteurization is the best way to make sure your milk is safe.

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Find out how drinking raw milk affected three moms and their families. Watch videos >

Can raw milk hurt me or my family?

Yes. Raw milk and products made from raw milk, such as cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, can make you very sick or even kill you. That’s because raw milk can contain harmful germs, such as Brucella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

Drinking raw milk can lead to many days of diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. Less commonly, it may result in severe or even life-threatening illness, including Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure, stroke, and even death.

Who has a greater chance of getting sick from raw milk or raw milk products?

Some groups are more likely to get sick from raw milk:

  • Infants and children younger than 5 years
  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have health problems or take medicines that lower their body’s ability to fight germs and sickness—such as people whose immune systems are weakened because of cancer, an organ transplant, or HIV

However, anyone can get very sick if they drink raw milk that contains harmful germs.

What can I do to lower my chances of getting sick from milk and milk products?

Choose pasteurized milk and milk products. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label. If in doubt, don’t buy it!
Eat soft cheeses only if they are made from pasteurized milk. Soft cheeses include queso fresco, queso blanco, panela (queso panela), brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and feta.

Keep milk and milk products refrigerated at 40°F or colder, and throw away any expired milk or milk products.

Are raw or natural foods better than processed foods?

Many people believe that foods with little or no processing are better for their health. However, some types of processing are needed to protect our health. We make raw meat, poultry, and fish safe to eat by cooking them. We make milk safe by pasteurizing it. Most nutrients remain in milk after it is pasteurized.

What are good sources of beneficial bacteria?

If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it is a good source of beneficial bacteria, you need to know that you may get sick from drinking it. Consider choosing pasteurized fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir, which contain beneficial bacteria without the risk of illness linked to germs in raw milk.

Can I get sick from raw milk and raw milk products if the animals are healthy and clean or if the dairy is especially careful when collecting the milk?

Yes. Heathy animals may carry germs that are harmful to people. Following good hygiene during milking can reduce the chance of milk contamination but does not eliminate it. Methods for safely collecting milk have improved over the years, but using them doesn’t guarantee the milk is safe. Germs can get into milk while it is collected, transported, stored, or processed. If the milk is not pasteurized to kill those germs, it can make you sick.

Infographic: Some germs linked to outbreaks

Harmful germs found in raw milk can make people sick. These germs include bacteria, parasites, and viruses, such as CampylobacterCryptosporidiumE. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

My local farmer’s raw milk is organic, so isn’t it safe?

Raw milk is not guaranteed to be safe, even if it’s organic or comes from an organic, certified, or local farm or dairy. Pasteurization makes milk safe. Many small farms and dairies, farmer’s markets, and supermarkets offer pasteurized organic milk and products made from it.

My dairy farmer tests for germs in raw milk, so isn’t it safe?

Even if no germs are found during testing, raw milk can still contain germs that can make you and your family sick. Tests do not always detect low levels of contamination, and germs can multiply and grow in milk between the time it’s collected and when you drink it. People have become very sick from drinking raw milk from farms that regularly tested their milk and whose owners said they were sure their milk was safe.

Read more Q&As about raw milk and outbreaks related to raw milk.

Page last reviewed: January 22, 2020
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