While there have been varying stories over the years on the benefits of drinking milk, scientific research has found that milk contains a host of nutrients that are good for you and a necessary part of a balanced diet. But not everyone agrees that milk needs to be pasteurized to be safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and other organizations agree that raw (or unpasteurized) milk can contain high levels of deadly bacteria and strongly advise people not to drink it. Raw milk advocates not only disagree, they’re pushing Congress and state legislatures (including Texas) to make it easier to buy and carry raw milk across state lines.
Before you rush to join the raw milk bandwagon, I implore you to get the facts about pasteurized vs. unpasteurized milk and milk products.
Pasteurization Removes Harmful Bacteria
Raw milk can contain bacteria and other microorganisms that can be very harmful if consumed. In fact, raw milk is a breeding ground for such illnesses as E. coli, listeria, salmonella, typhoid fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis, brucellosis and more.
To make sure the milk or other dairy products that you or your family consumes aren’t carrying these harmful microorganisms, milk goes through the pasteurization process. This entails heating milk to a specific temperature for a specific period of time to eliminate the bacteria.
What Can Happen When You Drink Unpasteurized Milk
Drinking unpasteurized milk or eating a product made from unpasteurized milk such as cheeses and yogurts – whether the milk is from a cow, goat or sheep – poses a health risk for young children, women who are pregnant, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. For these groups of people, drinking milk contaminated with bacteria can lead to mild discomfort, such as diarrhea and nausea on up to hospitalization and even death.
How to Determine if the Milk You’re Drinking Is Safe
For the most part, the majority of milk and dairy products made in the United States are pasteurized. Currently in Texas, consumers can only buy raw milk direct from a pasture-based farm. However, the Texas House passed a bill earlier this year that, if passed by the Senate, would make it legal for raw milk to be sold at farmers markets and through direct delivery to consumer. It would not allow the sale of raw milk in Texas supermarkets.
The best way to determine if the milk or milk product you’re purchasing is pasteurized is to check the label. If you do not see the word “pasteurized,” it is possible that the product was made from raw milk. Also, don’t buy milk or milk products from farmers markets or farm stands unless you can confirm the product has been pasteurized.
Don’t Fall for Myths
Inaccurate information sometimes spreads faster than factual information. People often believe that raw milk can kill pathogens by itself, that the pasteurization process decreases the nutritional value of the milk, causes lactose intolerance or allows milk to be left out of the refrigerator for long periods of time, among other falsehoods.
Here are the facts about pasteurized and unpasteurized milk products:
- The pasteurization process does not reduce milk’s nutritional value, cause lactose intolerance or make milk safe to leave out of the refrigerator for an extended period of time.
- Pasteurization does kill harmful bacteria.
- Unpasteurized milk cannot kill pathogens by itself.
- Unpasteurized milk does not prevent or cure lactose intolerance, asthma, allergies, heart disease or cancer.
If you or someone you know becomes ill after consuming raw milk or products made from raw milk, see a doctor immediately.
Where do you fall in the pasteurized vs. raw milk debate? Are you for or against it?
Dr. Puja Sehgal is a board-certified Family Medicine physician. She works with patients to give them knowledge regarding prevention and management of illness. She develops relationships with her patients by customizing their treatment based on their beliefs and cultural practices.