Saturday, August 25, 2012

Raw Milk versus Pasteurized

You can't own milk goats without the inevitable discussion of raw (unpasteurized) milk versus pasteurized milk.  Lots of goat owners own goats for the reason that they want raw milk, and the only way for them to have it is to own the animal.  In some states it's illegal to sell raw milk with some amazingly stiff penalties; other states require herd shares or purchasing it directly from the farm. 

But what's all the hubbub about raw versus pasteurized milk?  Is raw better?  Maybe; maybe not.

What is Pasteurization?

Before discussing raw versus pasteurized, it's a good idea to understand what pasteurization is exactly.  Pasteurization is cooking milk at the temperature of 165F for 15 seconds to eliminate pathogens.  (You can also heat milk for 30 minutes at 140F to achieve the same result).  Louis Pasteur was looking for a way to eliminate harmful pathogens such as tuberculosis from milk.  He came across the relatively simple process that bears his name.

Good Bugs and Bad Bugs

Pasteurization doesn't discriminate when it comes to bugs.  Heat kills most of them and reduces some temperature sensitive nutrients.  That means that pasteurized milk is free of harmful pathogens when it comes out of the pasteurizer (it doesn't make the milk safe if pathogens are introduced afterward).  Proponents of raw milk claim that pasteurization also kills milk's natural antibiotics, thus making the milk unsafe, dead, and not healthy for you.  On the other side of the argument for pasteurization, people have gotten sick from raw milk, notably from E.coli, listeria, and campylobacter. 

Raw proponents claim that raw milk will help with digestive problems, asthma, allergies, and a plethora of other ailments.  The pasteurization camp claims that it just isn't so.

So, which is it?

Dogs in the Fight

Interestingly enough, I've noticed that those who have squared off seem to have dogs in the fight.  It's sort of like watching a tennis match between two archrivals.  Both have reasons for why they support the position that they do, so when looking at websites, one has to read both sides.


The CDC states that between 1998 to Present there were 118 outbreaks of food poisoning with raw milk as opposed to 26 outbreaks with pasteurized milk.  But if you look at the number of those sickened, raw milk caused 2,128 total illnesses, 2 deaths, and pasteurized milk 2,786 total illnesses, 4 deaths.  So, there were more outbreaks with raw milk but fewer people sickened as opposed to more people sickened with fewer outbreaks or contaminated products.  

So, fewer products could make more people sick, no doubt due to our reliance on eating foods obtained from single sources and larger food companies.

My Thoughts and Opinions

In principle, I think everyone should be able to choose whether or not they want to drink raw milk.  Let people do their own research and decide for themselves.  Maybe they won't make the right choice; maybe they will.  Maybe there isn't a right choice.

I'm no fan of factory farms.  I think a lot of food recalls are due to limited sources and distributors.  Lots of food can get contaminated in a very short time if it is single-sourced. 

I raise my own goats for milk.  I also pasteurize my own milk.  I do it because I feel it is right for me.  If you want to drink raw milk, do your homework and decide for yourself. 

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