The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Can You Get a Raw Deal by Drinking Raw Milk?

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Dec 03, 2015

It seems as though once every month or so there is a new dietary ‘whipping boy’ that is responsible for the obesity epidemic and related societal ills such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. High-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, grains, gluten, and GMOs are just a few of the dietary culprits that have been blamed (largely by the public, media, and other non-scientists) for the myriad of common dietary-related health problems in our society.

A relatively recent ‘hip and trendy’ approach that is being used by some people to supposedly improve their health is the ingestion of raw (unpasteurized) milk from cows, goats, or other animals. A brief history lesson: In 1864, Louis Pasteur achieved a dramatic scientific breakthrough by discovering that if beer and wine were heated to a certain temperature for a brief period of time, then deadly bacterial pathogens would be killed. This process (pasteurization) is commonly hailed by scientists as one of the greatest public health achievements in recent centuries.1 In fact, prior to the time when pasteurization became commonplace, millions of people became sick and some died from diseases that were transmitted through raw milk. Among these diseases were tuberculosis, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and typhoid fever. There are many other ways by which raw milk and related raw milk products can become contaminated. Cow or goat feces, as well as insects, rodents, parasites, and bacteria that live on an animal’s skin can come into direct contact with raw milk. Among the bacteria that have been identified in raw milk are e coli, campylobacter, listeria, and salmonella. It is important to note that animals that are healthy can still carry these germs.2

By the 1920s, routine pasteurization of milk began; this became widespread by the 1950s. Many highly-regarded organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend pasteurization for all milk products consumed by humans.2 A common approach for the pasteurization of milk is to heat it to a temperature of 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.

While there are some truths, there are also many myths and misconceptions about consuming raw milk. First, it is true that not all raw milk is contaminated. While it is possible that someone could drink raw milk for an extended period of time without getting sick, it’s a bit like playing Russian roulette. Whether or not these deadly germs are present in raw milk is very unpredictable. Even animals that are grass-fed and raised in sanitary conditions can still carry germs that are transmitted to raw milk during the milking process. Infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems face an increased risk of illness by consuming contaminated raw milk. Although raw milk proponents claim that it is nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk, there is no scientific evidence to support this opinion. While the small amount of vitamin C in raw milk is reduced by pasteurization, milk has never been a major source of vitamin C in the diet. Some people assume that if the raw milk is labeled ‘organic’, then it is safe to drink. Organic raw milk has no guarantee of being safe.2

The CDC collects data on food-related disease outbreaks in the U.S. that are voluntarily reported. From 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to raw milk consumption were reported. These outbreaks led to 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. 82% of these outbreaks involved at least one person younger than the age of 20. Because some food-related disease outbreaks go unreported, the actual number of illnesses is likely much greater.

So, while milk is chock-full of essential nutrients including protein, calcium, B-vitamins, and vitamin D, we strongly recommend that you avoid raw milk and related raw milk products. Of note, it is currently recommended that individuals over the age of 1 consume reduced-fat dairy products instead of whole milk dairy in order to reduce dietary saturated fat intake. An additional important fact regarding reduced-fat dairy is that it is a cornerstone of the DASH eating plan, which has been shown repeatedly to decrease resting blood pressure and blood LDL-cholesterol levels.3 Furthermore, the inclusion of reduced-fat dairy has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance and subsequently reduce the risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.4

To learn more about healthy eating, consider taking The Cooper Institute’s Nutrition for Health and Fitness Course (live or online), our Personal Training Education Course (live or online), or our Weight Loss Strategies workshop. You need not be a health and fitness professional to attend these courses, everyone is welcome!



1. The dangers of raw milk:unpasteurized milk can pose a serious health risk. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

2. Nonpasteurized dairy products, disease outbreaks, and state laws-United States,  1993-2006 in emerging infectious diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Appel, L.J., et al. (1997). A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. DASH collaborative research group. N Engl J Med. 336(16):1117-1124.

4. Liu, S., et al. (2006). A prospective study of dairy intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.  Diabetes Care. 29(7):1579-1584.