As consumer demand for locally grown and organic foods increases, so, too, does the interest in unpasteurized, or "raw" milk. But is milk that comes straight from a cow safe to drink?
"Raw Milk FAQs," a new extension publication, written by Mike Schutz, Purdue Extension dairy specialist, and Mike Ferree, a Purdue Extension educator, helps consumers separate fact from fiction when determining the best milk choice for their families.
The publication is intended to add to the public dialogue as lawmakers across the country consider whether to regulate raw milk, what a regulatory system should look like, and how best to protect both consumer choice and public health, Schutz says.
"This publication provides the scientific facts behind milk pasteurization, its benefits and the issues related to consuming raw milk," Schutz adds.
Pasteurization involves heating food molecules to kill foodborne pathogens. The process was developed by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard in 1862. Another scientist, Franz von Soxhlet, popularized pasteurization for use on milk in 1886.
Twenty U.S. states currently don't allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption, though some states in recent years have become more liberal with raw milk regulation.
A similar issue hit the Senate floor earlier this year when an amendment was offered to the 2012 Farm Bill to eliminate mandatory pasteurization for all milk and milk products shipped across state lines. Both the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers opposed the amendment, which was left out of the bill's final draft.
Schutz says milk usually does not harbor any harmful bacteria when it leaves a cow but can become contaminated from dairy equipment, dirt, manure or if not properly stored. The incubation period for bacterial contamination is shorter than the normal time it takes most consumers to drink the milk.
"Diseases that can be transmitted through raw milk include listeriosis, campylobacter and streptococcus, to name a few," Schutz says. "These illnesses can be very serious or fatal. Pasteurization can reduce the pathogen load in milk to make it safer for human consumption. In fact, pasteurization probably is the one practice that has done the most to reduce the spread of tuberculosis from animals to humans."
Raw Milk FAQs answers 18 common questions related to pasteurization and unpasteurized milk. The questions include risks associated with drinking unpasteurized milk, beneficial characteristics and properties of unpasteurized milk, the effect pasteurization has on milk's nutritional value and legal ramifications of permitting raw milk sales.
The publication also provides links to other informational resources on pasteurization and raw milk.
Click here to access the Purdue publication.