Doctors Oppose Raw Milk for Kids

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Doctors Oppose Raw Milk for Kids

News Review From Harvard Medical School

December 16, 2013

News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Doctors Oppose Raw Milk for Kids

Raw milk is not safe for infants, children and pregnant women, a group of children's doctors says. The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging parents not to let their children drink milk that is not pasteurized or eat most raw-milk cheeses. Pregnant women also should avoid these products, the group said. The doctors' group also called for a ban on sale of raw milk. The reason is that raw milk can contain germs that cause human illness. Such illnesses were common before pasteurizing milk become widespread in the 1920s. Today, the movement toward local and natural foods has made raw milk more popular. But drinking raw milk has led to about 150 to 200 illnesses each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Most are stomach illnesses caused by bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. Some cases lead to severe illness and even kidney failure. Children tend to have some of the most severe disease. Pregnant women can have miscarriages. The journal Pediatrics published the statement. HealthDay News wrote about it December 16.


By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School


What Is the Doctor's Reaction?

I have to admit, at first glance it seems like it might be a good idea to drink raw milk. It sounds like it would be fresher, somehow -- and more natural, less processed. It hearkens back to a simpler time, makes you think about life on a farm…

But it is a really bad idea.

It's a particularly bad idea for pregnant women, infants, the elderly and anyone whose immune system doesn't work as well as it should. The reason: Raw milk can have germs -- and can make you sick.

We've been pasteurizing milk since the 1920s. Before then, unpasteurized milk caused a major proportion of all the food-borne illnesses. Pasteurization made a big difference, but there are still illnesses every year from raw milk and milk products.

About 1% to 3% of all dairy products consumed in the United States are not pasteurized.

 Between 1998 and 2009, consumption of raw milk or milk products caused:

  • 93 outbreaks of illness
  • 1,837 cases of illness
  • 195 hospital stays
  • 2 deaths

Most of the illnesses were caused by E. coli, campylobacter or salmonella.

The germs can get into the milk in many ways. They can be found:

  • On the skin of the animal
  • On the hands or clothing of the person milking them
  • In the containers that hold the milk
  • In insects that get into the milk
  • Anywhere else along the voyage from milking to drinking

Germs can also be in the animal. Milk is a bodily fluid, so viruses and other illnesses can be passed into it.

Pasteurization is very simple. It involves raising the temperature of the milk to at least 161 degrees for at least 15 seconds, and then rapidly cooling it. This does a great job of making the milk much safer to drink. According to all the scientific information out there, it also doesn't change the nutritional quality of the milk.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans interstate shipment of raw milk or milk products. The only exception is for certain cheeses, as long as they have been aged at least 60 days and are labeled as unpasteurized.  But the FDA has no control over how milk is pasteurized -- that's a state thing. Currently, 30 states allow the sale of raw milk and milk products.


What Changes Can I Make Now?

Raw milk is not healthier for you. Contrary to what some people might say or think, pasteurized milk doesn't lead to lactose intolerance, allergies, asthma or autism.  The best choice for your health, and the health and safety of your family and community, is to buy pasteurized milk products. If you are pregnant, it's the best choice for your unborn baby, too.


What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?

Unpasteurized milk and milk products can make people sick.  That's why all of these groups support pasteurizing milk:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Medical Association
  • American Veterinary Medical Association
  • International Association for Food Protection
  • National Environmental Health Association
  • Environmental Health Association
  • FDA
  • World Health Association

I hope that regulators will listen to these groups, ban sales of unpasteurized milk and milk products, and keep more people safe.


Last updated December 16, 2013

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