How About Raw Milk?

Anyone out there remember Elsie the cow? She was the cartoon mascot of the Borden Dairy Company back when I was a kid, and her smiling face—accented with a necklace of flowers and superimposed upon a large yellow daisy—greeted me every day on the school lunch tray. You probably had a cartoon cow on your milk carton too. Maybe not Elsie, but some other cute bovine dreamed up by the marketing gurus of your regional dairy.

And so… it’s no wonder that our earliest memory of a dairy farm brings to mind an idyllic scene of smiling cows romping around flowered fields and a freshly-painted barn.

Then we grew up and watched the Netflix documentaries.

Turns out those flowered fields were really mud pits next to a filthy corrugated structure that would never pass for a barn. And romping? No way. The cows were packed in too tight to move! Add in stories of steroid injections and antibiotics and it’s easy to see how the organic milk bandwagon got started.

Truth be told, my family jumped on that one… along with countless friends and neighbors… and we are happily paying a little more for a gallon of milk that comes from something a bit closer to my childhood vision of a dairy farm.

But now there are those who want to turn back the clock even further. Putting the cows to pasture and eliminating steroids and antibiotics wasn’t enough. They want raw milk… straight from the cow!

That may be fine if you can sterilize an utter and drink from the animal itself. But let’s face it, few of us have that opportunity. By the time raw milk makes its way to your breakfast bowl, it has passed through machines and containers and hands. It has also been stored, and this storage is a big problem because microorganisms love milk and reproduce in it abundantly.

This isn’t a new problem.

In the early 1900’s, raw milk became recognized as a significant source of disease. In fact, between 1912 and 1937, some 65,000 people died of tuberculosis contracted from consuming raw milk in England and Wales. That’s when famed microbiologist Louis Pasteur stepped in. His process of heating the milk between pumping and storage decreased the numbers of bacteria and the incidence of disease.

His plan has worked well for decades. But now we have a new problem… well-intentioned post-moderns who want to muck it up. They say tuberculosis isn’t a real threat in milk today, and even if someone contracted tuberculosis from milk, the disease is easily treated with twenty-first century drugs.

Turns out I agree—you’d be hard pressed to find tuberculosis hanging out on your friendly neighborhood farm. But you will find plenty of other bacteria there, including salmonella, campylobacter, and the deadly 0157 strain of E.coli. These bacteria are just as happy to grow in milk as tuberculosis, and it’s the pasteurization process that stops them in their tracks.

So how real is this threat today? Well, from 1998 through 2009, there were 93 recorded outbreaks of disease resulting from the consumption of raw milk in the United States. 1,837 people were affected, leading to 195 hospitalizations and two deaths. These may not seem like high numbers (unless, of course, one of those deaths happens to be you), but consider this: how many people were consuming raw milk between 1998 and 2009? Not many. Will the numbers of disease and death increase if we all jump on THIS bandwagon? Absolutely!

By the way, raw milk can also transmit viruses. This includes norovirus, which is responsible for over 700 U.S. deaths each year.

Remember those post-moderns? They have one more gripe. They say the pasteurization process decreases nutrients and increases the incidence of lactose intolerance. But these claims are simply not true. Well-designed studies have repeatedly shown that raw milk and pasteurized milk contain equivalent levels of proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins and lactose-reducing enzymes. The only thing missing after pasteurization is the harmful microorganisms.

So go organic if you must, but please… for the sake of your family’s health… don’t go raw!

To learn more about raw milk, join Dr. Mike in our recent  PediaCast episode.

Mike Patrick, MD
Dr. Mike is an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s and host of PediaCast, our pediatric podcast for moms and dads. Each week, PediaCast covers news parents can use, answers listener questions, and delivers interviews with pediatric experts on a variety of topics. Dr Mike is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, where he serves as a faculty advisor for medical students. On the home front, he is married with two kids: a college-aged daughter and a son in high school. Prior to working in the emergency department, Dr Mike spent 10 years in a busy private practice, a time he says most prepared him for the practical advice he shares on PediaCast. Dr Mike also has an interest in roller skating. He learned to walk with skates on his feet, and his first job (age 10) was as a disc jockey at his hometown roller skating rink. He has also worked as a DJ at two radio stations, experiences which further prepared him to host our podcast!

2 thoughts on “How About Raw Milk?

  1. rawmilkmike on said:

    The CDC has inadvertently proven that raw milk has a negative risk factor and prevents foodborne illness.

    “Health officials in Minnesota warned Wednesday that based on a 10-year(CDC sponsored) study. They estimated that more than 17%(or 1.7% per year) of the state’s residents who drank raw milk got sick during the 10-year study.”,0,1666103.story#axzz2tOoRRo3j

    While as many as “48 million people (That’s 15% or1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

    This means you are 9 times more likely to suffer a foodborne illness if you don’t drink raw milk.

  2. I never read anything about the scientific studies that Adelle Davis published in her book.’Let’s have Healthy Children.’ The gist of it was that two groups of cats were fed a diet of milk. One group was fed raw milk and the other was fed pasteurized milk. the group of raw milk cats had strong straight teeth and the others had very crooked, malformed teeth. There is more info on the study in her book, but could the epidemic proportions of children needing braces in our society not be a result of calcium deficiency with the biggest modern change to our diet being pasteurized milk?

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