Pasteurized Milk or Unpasteurized Milk. Is This Always Your Decision to Make?

BY Lydia Medeiros | April 14, 2014

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What is pasteurization and is it necessary? Unpasteurized milk – risky or nutritiously beneficial? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.

What is pasteurization?

Is all of the milk you buy in the grocery store pasteurized milk? Mostly, in this country, it is. Pastuerization, named in the 1800’s for Louis Pasteur, means that milk is heated and held at a temperature so that pathogens that could cause foodborne illness will be killed. But, people have been drinking unpasteurized (or raw) milk since the beginning of time. Is it really necessary to pasteurized? What are the pros and cons of drinking raw milk?

Who decides if milk must be pasteurized? In the United States, milk sold across state lines is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. Milk produced and sold within a state is regulated by the State’s agriculture program. Some states allow sale of raw milk and some do not. Where legal retail sale is not allowed, an alternative way to obtain raw milk for yourself or your family is through herd-share programs. In Ohio and according to the Ohio Raw Milk website, “… if you purchase a set number of shares in a dairy herd and sign a boarding contract to pay for the care and management of your portion of the herd you are then entitled to receive a corresponding amount of the herd’s milk production, depending on seasonal availability.”

… because I know where my milk has come from. I know how I’ve handled it from start to finish.Unpasteurized milk consumer, Focus group comment, 2011

If the government is getting into the act by regulating whether you can buy raw milk, does that mean it is risky to drink? Because milk comes from animals, and animals are not free of bacteria, milk will also come from the cow with bacteria – some of which could cause a human to become ill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or, the CDC) track illness outbreaks caused by drinking all types of milk and dairy products [reference; reference]. And yes, both pasteurized and unpasteurized milk could be the source of the bugs that cause someone to be sick. But, the number of illnesses is much lower for pasteurized milk considering the amount of milk that is consumed in this country, and because of the destruction of pathogens by pasteurization. If pasteurization was done correctly, these illnesses are usually due to someone mishandling the milk so that it becomes contaminated with pathogens [Olsen et al]. Minnesota, a state that allows legal sell of unpasteurized milk, has studied illnesses caused by unpasteurized milk that occur sporadically. These researchers point out that the true rate of foodborne illnesses attributed to consuming raw milk or dairy products may be substantially higher because individual illnesses are not investigated by the CDC unless two or more people become ill. There have also been deaths linked to pasteurized or raw milk consumption [reference, reference, reference].

Knowing this, why would anyone want to take the risk of drinking unpasteurized milk? Proponents of raw milk consumption point to the loss of beneficial bacteria (not all bacteria are bad) and nutrition components that could be lost from heating milk, and the sale of raw milk also promotes the local farmer and economy [reference]. But, there are some people who should not drink raw milk. Given that children are especially susceptible to foodborne illness due to their young immune systems and their less-than-perfect sanitary skills, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents not give unpasteurized milk to their children.

Unpasteurized milk – risky or nutritiously beneficial? Even though legal sale is not allowed in many states, herd-share programs provide a way for people who want access to raw milk. What you eat and what you serve your family is your choice. So, what will be your decision? The more you know, the better the decision that you make.


The process of heating every particle of milk or milk product, in properly designed and operated equipment, to one of the temperatures in the following chart and held continuously at or above that temperature for at least the corresponding time:

Temperature Time
63°C (145°F) 30 minutes
72°C (161°F) 15 seconds
89°C (191°F) 1.0 second
90°C (194°F) 0.5 seconds
94°C (201°F) 0.1 seconds
96°C (204°F) 0.05 seconds
100°C (212°F) 0.01 seconds

Source: http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/milk/ucm055772.htm

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