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Obviously, pasteurization is useful since it reduces organisms in the milk, but how frequent were milk-related illnesses before pasteurization, and what other nutrients and flavours are lost in the process.

If one can get milk from a local source with a quick turnaround, so the milk is not sitting through the packaging/shipping process for a long time, how bad are the dangers?

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Health issues are officially off-topic according to the site definition. –  Aaronut Jul 10 '10 at 23:38
on the other hand, couldn't this be considered a question about food handling and storage, which is on topic? –  David Nov 19 '10 at 6:52

7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Healthier is a loaded word in this case. The raw milk camp claims a richer flavor, more nutrients, and less allergies. The pasteurized camp claims just as nutritious, with better texture, but safer. Once all the practicalities of producing, distributing, and ensuring the quality of large quantities of milk come into play, the debate becomes fierce. What happens when there are many raw milk producers? If someone reacts badly to raw milk, who is liable? What are the observed health benefits in large population studies?

In the raw milk debate I like the format adopted by the Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Workgroup

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Texture has to do with homogenization not pasteurization, I think, although modern processors always do both. –  Ocaasi Jul 31 '10 at 17:49
It's like a lot of things: a calculated risk. You can absolutely get sick from raw milk, and there are absolutely some things in raw milk that don't make it through pasteurization (good things and bad). Frankly, for my money, I won't drink it. I've had it before, and it's good, but it doesn't have the mystical wonderfulness that certain interest groups ascribe it. And without that, the taste doesn't outweigh the risk. –  Satanicpuppy Nov 4 '10 at 2:38
Ocaasi, I've definitely seen pasteurized, non-homogenized milk at the grocery store. –  Adam Jaskiewicz Dec 18 '11 at 15:52

I used to drink raw milk. 20 minutes after it was "extracted". It was the best milk I ever had. The key here is finding a trustworthy source. Just like with any other food it should not be contaminated with harmful bacteria. And like pasteurized milk - you'll get cottage cheese if you let it sit unrefrigerated.

Also some countries/states have laws about selling raw mild through retail.

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Other than taste, are there any other benefits? –  Eclipse Jul 10 '10 at 0:26

What Zepplock said. If you know it came from healthy cows, recently, and was well cared for in the interim, then it's great stuff.

Otherwise, you're essentially picking up a random petri dish and drinking it. Good luck with that...

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The advantage with the raw milk is since there is no heat applied, you do not lose any nutritional value. I cannot tell you about the health side though. If you are not drinking pasteurized milk you have to make sure of the source of the raw milk.

Also, note that, there are two types of pasteurization, there is the normal pasteurization where the milk is heated to 71C/161F and kept there for about 15 seconds. Then there is the low heat pasteurization where the milk is heated to 63C/145F and kept there for about 30 minutes. The latter's nutritional value is more than the former. Unfortunately, it is not reasonable for commercial companies when all they need is to remove harmful bacteria since both does the same when it comes to healthiness.

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If I understand correctly, your first and second sentences appear to contradict on another. –  David Nov 19 '10 at 6:54

According to our midwife, raw milk (and cheese made from raw milk) is not recommended during pregnancy, because there's a slight probability of catching a particular family of germs that can be harmful to the unborn. (Unfortunately, I forgot which family that is.)

Raw milk definitely is quite alive with a lot of things. Short of extensive microbiological and medical studies, there's not a good way to tell whether that's a good thing. A healthy person might benefit from the stimulating effect on the immune system, and quite likely the majority of organisms in the milk is not harmful. I would also expect a number of organisms that actually assist in digesting the milk, which may account for claims about reducing allergies.

Of course, it's a highly uncontrolled environment, so you might be unlucky and get some harmful germ occasionally. On the other hand, we eat quite a large variety of milk-processing organisms, as in cheese, yoghurt, kefir etc.

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The germ is Listeria. It is dangerous during pregnancy as it can cross the placenta and infect the baby in the womb. It can also grow across a wide range of temperature, including normal fridge temperatures. Other foods considered dangerous for pregnant women due to Listeria are (soft) cheeses and cold meats / fish. –  user2215 Nov 3 '10 at 23:35

Pasteurization does kill helpful bacteria along with any pathogens, and it also destroys vitamins (Kilshaw et al 1982). And also see wikipedia.

Other than the effect of pasteurization on the milk per se, it is worth considering the health of the cows. Raw milk is more likely to be available from small herds that are pasture grazed, and more easily obtained fresh. By contrast, most of the pasteurized milk available in the store comes from large dairy farms that have as many cows producing as much milk as possible, and standard practices used to increase production include regular doses of antibiotics, hormones, and corn/soy feed. So pasteurized milk starts off less healthy before it is pasteurized. Add to that the effects of storage and it is clear that, in the absence of any pathogens, raw milk is healthier.

Pasteurized milk also spoils, whereas raw milk transforms (e.g. to yogurt, cheese, etc) as it ages.

The problem with raw milk safety is that it doesn't scale well (Steele et al 1997). Although I do know a local goat farmer who I trust and from whom I purchase raw milk, it is difficult to know the safety of milk from unregulated dairies. Knowing the farmer and the conditions of the herd provides valuable information. The one source of raw milk that I fully trust and think is likely safer than pasteurized milk in the store, based on their own self-regulation that includes much more intensive testing than required by the USDA, is 'Organic Pastures'. Their website is a good resource for information on raw milk, and I believe that they ship.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that there have been plenty of listeria and salmonella outbreaks from pasteurized milk sold in stores.

P J Kilshaw, L M Heppell, J E Ford 1982. Effects of heat treatment of cow's milk and whey on the nutritional quality and antigenic properties. Arch Dis Child 1982;57:842-847 doi:10.1136/adc.57.11.842

Steele et al 1997 Survey of Ontario Bulk Tank Raw Milk for Food-Borne Pathogens Journal of Food Protection, Volume 60, Number 11, November 1997 , pp. 1341-1346(6)

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The risk: Malta fever

A friend of mine got that from raw milk and suffered for years before the correct diagnosis.

Go for pasteurized milk for your own safety and wellbeing.

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