Food Safety

The Facts About Raw Milk

This fact sheet is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a health care professional about any health concerns you have, and before you make any changes to your diet, lifestyle or treatment.

Raw milk

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process where raw milk is heated to very high temperatures. These high temperatures kill bacteria that can cause disease. Raw milk provides an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. Without pasteurization, harmful bacteria can grow in raw milk and it can potentially be a danger to anyone who drinks it.

Pasteurized milk: Safe and nutritious

Milk must be pasteurized in order to be sold in Canada. Pasteurization ensures the milk we drink is safe while retaining the nutritional properties of milk.

While some people believe that raw milk offers greater nutritional value than pasteurized milk, research indicates there is no significant difference. You should weigh any supposed health benefit against the overwhelming evidence that drinking raw milk can make you ill. Children are particularly at risk for infections from drinking raw milk.

Raw milk: Unsafe to drink

The Canadian federal and provincial governments have passed laws making it illegal to sell or distribute unpasteurized milk to consumers. However, some people still choose to drink raw milk with the belief it is safe to consume. Raw milk can pose health risks. Cows naturally carry certain disease-causing bacteria which may be passed to the milk that they produce. The bacteria may not harm the cow, but humans consuming unpasteurized milk may become infected with serious illness.

Raw milk: Linked to many diseases

Before pasteurization was introduced to Canada in the early 1900s, many people became ill and died as a result of drinking raw milk. While widespread pasteurization of milk has eliminated large outbreaks of milk-borne disease, there are still cases where people become sick from drinking raw milk.

While anyone can get ill from consuming raw milk, certain groups are at higher risk. These groups include infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems. The risk for children is higher because they have immature or weakened immune systems. Pregnant women risk miscarriage when exposed to some of the organisms typically transmitted by raw milk or some of products made from it.

Harmful bacteria in raw milk can lead to infections that cause severe diarrhea, cramps, fever, nausea, vomiting, headache and dehydration, and can lead to life-threatening kidney failure, meningitis, and even death.

Here is a list of some of the infections and diseases that can be related to drinking raw milk:

Raw milk: Outbreaks in Ontario

Over the last decade, there have been cases and outbreaks in Ontario related to drinking unpasteurized milk and eating cheese made from unpasteurized milk.

Raw milk: Outbreaks in the United States

The U.S. federal Food and Drug Agency (FDA) and other public health officials advise consumers to avoid drinking beverages or eating foods made with unpasteurized milk, including raw milk soft cheeses from any source.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors illness caused by raw milk, and provides this summary of outbreaks in the United States: From 2007 through 2012, the CDC reports that there were 81 outbreaks due to the consumption of raw milk. An estimated 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations were associated with these outbreaks.

Take care of your health

Milk and milk products sold in Canada must meet food safety requirements. Only buy pasteurized milk products from groceries or other reputable stores. Remember to store all dairy products at the proper temperature which is 4 degrees Celsius or lower.

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