In the last article we talked about raw milk and some of it’s benefits. Lets discuss safety of raw milk as it seems to be a topic of controversy for many people. I want to begin by saying that Chris Kresser has done an article on this and it does a great job of explaining the true risk. You can find that article here:
I’m going to rehash some of the stats of his article so I can’t say that it is truly my own. In other words he deserves the credit for the research on this one but I’ve looked over the data he’s collected and have come to the same basic conclusion.
In a report done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), they looked at food contaminated outbreaks that caused illness from 1990-2006. Here is the report:
The most amount of outbreaks actually came from seafood, however the most amount of actual illness came from produce, not seafood. Vegetable were linked with 279 outbreaks with 14,743 illnesses. In the report they also show that seafood and produce aside, pork, beef, eggs and poultry also cause more outbreaks and illness than dairy.
For dairy, a total of 221 outbreaks with 6364 illnesses occurred. Milk was responsible for 79 outbreaks with1889 illnesses. That’s total milk, not raw milk. According to the report close to 30% of all dairy outbreaks were from milk. So out of the total 168,898 illnesses reported, milk was responsible for 1.1%. Compare that to produce which causes nearly 21% of these illnesses. I haven’t seen any campaigns recently telling people to back off on veggies.
I’m not trying to make light of the fact that some of these illnesses can be life threatening or altering, but the numbers show that you’re much more likely to get sick eating fruits and veggies than milk.
In one report there were 39 deaths from 2009-2011 from peanuts, eggs and cantaloupe. . The CDC, from what I’ve been able to find only has 2 reported deaths from raw milk or raw milk products consumption.  They didn’t specify if it was milk or a cheese or something else so I can’t say for sure that milk did it.
On a side note, many Mexican cheeses like queso fresco are associated with illness, probably due to the conditions they are made in like bathtubs. There are others that are made in better environments but be careful if you want to buy from something made in Mexico if you’re on a trip south of the border. Some of these homemade cheeses are actually illegal.
In a report released by the CDC, raw milk was instigated in several outbreaks and illnesses and even 3 deaths.  One problem with the report was that it lumped raw milk with milk products like yogurt and cheese. As noted above some of these cheeses are illegal.
Another issue is the report claims only about 1% of the population actually consume raw milk. According to a Foodnet survey , done by the same CDC, they reported that about 3% of the population is drinking unpasteurized milk. Why would they say 1% when they had access to their own records showing it was probably triple that? Decreasing the pool of people that actually drink raw milk would make the number of events be larger.
For example, if there are 300 people who eat ice cream and 7 of them get sick, it looks like a 2.3% illness rate. But if the number reported was only 100 people the rate increases to 7%. Does the CDC have an agenda against raw milk? Maybe, maybe not.
Here is a chart showing raw milk consumption illness:
The average amount of illness is 100 cases per year. As Chris Kresser points out, using data from the Foodnet Survey, about 3% of the population consumes raw milk. With 313,900,000 people approximately in the USA, that is 9,417,000 people drinking raw milk. At an average of 100 cases of illness per year, that put the chance of getting sick on raw milk at around 1 in 94,000.
Now for pasteurized milk. Here’s the chart just like for raw milk:
About 78.5% of Americans drink pasteurized milk according to the Foodnet Survey. That’s around 246,411,500 people. With 277 illnesses per year with pasteurized milk the odds are 1 in almost 890,000. This is a relative risk increase of about 9.4 times. So you are 9.4 times mores likely to get sick drinking raw milk over pasteurized milk. But remember that this is relative risk.
Absolute risk, the risk that really matters, tells us the true story. If you are drinking raw milk the chances of illness are 0.00106%. That’s pretty small. Divide that by 9.4 and you have your risk for pasteurized milk. Even smaller.
One of the major causes of the illnesses seen were from Campylobacter jejuni and E. coli O157:H7. Both of these bugs can cause serious problems. No one is disputing that. The problem as Chris Kresser points out, and one that I completely agree with is illness from food born pathogens can be considered an episode of diarrhea or some bad stomach pains and maybe acid reflux. It may last a day or two. I know I’ve had my share and while it wasn’t pleasant I certainly didn’t call the CDC to report my problem.
The facts I think are pretty clear. Raw milk consumption is pretty safe. Again I don’t want to downplay the fact that you can get sick from drinking it, but according to the CSPI 2008 report:
Seafood causes 29x more illness than dairy
Poultry causes 19x more illness than dairy
Eggs causes 13x more illness than dairy
Beef causes 11x more illness than dairy
Pork causes 8x more illness than dairy
Produce causes 3x more illness than dairy.
Like Chris Kresser, this isn’t intended to convince you to drink raw milk, but to give you the facts. I love raw milk. We’ve made cream cheese with it which by the way is amazing. I love chugging it with just about anything when it’s ice cold and the cream….oh man the cream! Why so many people are calling it so unsafe is probably because of agenda or fear. I once felt the same way about it years ago. There was no way you were going to get me to drink milk straight from the cow.
As I grew up my grandma would tell me about getting milk from cows for the family and my dad had to milk the cows when he was a kid. Older men at church would tell me if they had chocolate they’d sometime mix it in a small glass on colder days when milking to make “hot chocolate”. I figured if all these people had been drinking milk straight from the cow with no problems something had to give. I got the courage to try it a couple of years ago and I never looked back. I can report no illness either. In fact just the opposite, it makes my mood better, kind of like after eating ice cream.
This is a Cliff’s Notes version of Chris’ article but I think it gets the point across.
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Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk.