Study: Raw milk 840 times more likely to make you sick

161°F. Toasty, right?

That’s the recommended temperature for milk to be heated up to in order to kill pathogens. Many commercial operations heat their milk to temperatures quite a bit hotter still.

The process, pasteurization, can be done in a few different ways, but is essential for making many foods, especially dairy products, safe to consume.

However, growing numbers of people seeking “authentic,” organic food have been drawn to raw, unpasteurized milk in recent years. Proponents claim that raw milk is healthier, can relieve allergies and can even fight cancer, among other benefits. In parts of Europe, especially in France, raw milk cheese is considered superior to pasteurized cheese.

Nevertheless, studies show that higher numbers of raw food consumption is connected to more instances of foodborne illness.

‘Studies show…’

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study showing that the rate of Americans sickened from raw milk-related outbreaks between 2007 and 2012 quadrupled from the rate between 1993 and 2006. That’s four times as many people getting sick in just 5 years as the preceding 12 years.

Another recent study shows that those who consume unpasteurized milk and cheese are a whopping 840 times more likely to experience an illness compared to those who consume pasteurized products. Out of 761 outbreak-related illnesses (with 22 hospitalizations) in 2015, 96% were attributed to unpasteurized dairy. 95% of the illnesses were due to Salmonella and Campylobacter.

The researchers who conducted the study suggested that the pathogens present in raw milk came primarily from bacteria in bulk milk tanks on raw milk farms.

“This study clearly shows that consuming raw milk and cheese poses a significant food safety risk that is easily avoidable by consuming pasteurized milk products,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Solenne Costard. “We hope that this work helps consumers make safe choices when it comes to dairy products.”

Is raw milk legal?

Unpasteurized dairy products are actually banned in some parts of the world. In England and some Scandinavian countries, stores cannot stock raw milk; it can only be sold directly to consumers on farms. It’s illegal to sell raw milk at all in Scotland, and is illegal to sell “for drinking purposes” in Australia. Canada also bans sales to consumers, but allows cheese made from raw milk to be sold if it has been aged for 60 days.

In the U.S., laws differ from state to state. The Food and Drug Administration banned interstate sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk in 1987, but depending on each state’s laws, raw dairy products can still be produced and sold within the state. More than half of U.S. states do allow the sale of raw milk.

“As states continue to legalize raw milk, I would expect it’s likely we will see more outbreaks and illnesses associated with it,” epidemiologist Hannah Gould told Time Magazine. “When we see something happening like this huge increase in the number of outbreaks caused by raw milk, we try to put out the message that this is going on, and provide that information to state legislators trying to make decisions about raw milk as well as alert consumers to the risks.”

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