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Raw Milk: What Parents Need to Know

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Raw milk is milk from a cow, sheep, goat or other animal that has not been pasteurized—heated to kill germs. Raw milk may also be used in products such as cream, cheeses, yogurt, ice cream, frozen yogurt and pudding.

Anyone can get sick from drinking raw milk or products made from raw milk. Here is what families should know about the risks of raw milk and how pasteurization kills germs in milk that can make people very sick.

Is raw milk safe to drink?

Raw milk is not safe to drink because it can carry harmful germs. Some of the harmful bacteria in raw milk are Campylobacter, Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Listeria, Tuberculosis and Brucella. These germs can cause serious health problems for anyone who is infected, but especially for children under age 5 years, people with immune conditions and adults age 65 years and older.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend against drinking and eating raw milk products.

Can bird flu be spread through milk products?

The CDC and the FDA are following outbreak of bird flu (avian influenza) that has spread from birds to dairy cows. Bird flu virus was also found in cats that died after drinking raw milk from infected cows.

With the H5N1 avian flu virus infecting cows, health officials have reinforced their long-standing advice not to drink raw milk or eat raw milk cheeses. However, pasteurization works well to kill harmful bacteria and viruses; there is no evidence that bird flu can be spread through pasteurized dairy products or infant formula. So, drinking pasteurized milk is considered safe.

Here are some ways that raw milk gets contaminated:

  • From animal poop, including from bird droppings or from an animal's skin.

  • In the barn, on milking equipment or in the milk processing plant.

  • When an animal has an infected udder, also called mastitis, or a disease such as bovine tuberculosis.

  • Germs from insects, rodents and other small animals.

  • Through dairy workers such as from dirty clothing or boots.

Is it legal to buy or sell raw milk?

Raw milk and other food made with raw milk is legal to buy in some states. Because people can get very sick from contaminated raw milk, it is illegal to sell raw milk from one state to people in another state. States that allow raw milk to be sold for human consumption have more outbreaks and illnesses from raw milk than states where it is illegal to sell raw milk.

Just because raw milk or a raw milk product is sold at a farmers' market does not mean that it is safe.

Even if a farm regularly tests their milk for bacteria this does not mean that it is safe. Low levels of germs in raw milk are not always detected. People have become very sick from products from farms that regularly test their milk for bacteria.

How does pasteurization work?

Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period.

Does pasteurization affect the nutrients or lactose content of milk?

Some people believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is safer or healthier. However, the nutritional value of milk stays the same after it is pasteurized. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can affect people who are sensitive to milk proteins or have lactose intolerance or a food allergy.

Are some people at higher risk of illness from raw milk?

Certain people are especially at risk from the dangerous microorganisms that raw milk may contain. Young children, people with weakened immune systems, older adults and pregnant people are at greater risk of getting very sick from contaminated raw milk products. Eating or drinking raw milk products that are contaminated can lead to miscarriage or death during pregnancy or after birth.

Symptoms of illness from raw milk

Most healthy people recover after eating or drinking contaminated raw milk products. But some people may have chronic, long lasting, severe symptoms or can die from the infection.

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Vomiting

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body ache

If you think that your child got sick from food, contact your pediatrician and report it to your local health department.


When shopping for dairy products, check the label to confirm that the food or drink has been pasteurized.

The CDC and FDA urge families to avoid "high-risk" choices such as:

  • Unpasteurized milk or cream

  • Soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, and Mexican-style soft cheeses such as Queso Fresco, Panela, Asadero, and Queso Blanco made from unpasteurized milk

  • Yogurt or pudding made from unpasteurized milk

  • Ice cream or frozen yogurt made from unpasteurized milk

If "pasteurized" is not on the label or listed in the ingredients, ask to be sure. Keep pasteurized dairy products in a refrigerator that is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and do not eat expired dairy products.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright @ 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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