In recent years, there has been much debate about the safety of raw milk. So, what exactly IS raw milk? Raw milk, is milk, that has not undergone the heating process known as pasteurization. In essence, it can be consumed straight from the animal source.
Many proponents of the raw milk movement believe, that pasteurization kills off the healthy bacteria found in milk. Bacteria such as Lactobacilli are found in raw milk, and it is believed that these can restore healthy balance in the intestinal tract. That being said, there are many far less innocuous bacteria hiding in your morning dose of dairy. Bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, E.Coli and Campylobacter are regularly found in milk that has not undergone the pasteurization process, these bacteria are responsible for many cases of food borne illness. There are documented cases, which have, unfortunately been fatal. Studies show that food borne illness is found in both healthy and immunocompromised individuals, so no one is truly safe. It is also said that raw milk consumption aids in digestion of dairy products, which is important to those that suffer from lactose intolerance. It is important to note that these purported benefits have not been effectively demonstrated.
In dairy farming, cleanliness is TRULY next to Godliness when it comes to the safety of the milk you drink. It is very difficult to predict whether or not raw milk will cause illness, as the bacteria which makes us sick can come from many sources:
Milk contamination may occur from:
- Cow feces coming into direct contact with the milk
- Infection of the cow’s udder (mastitis)
- Cow diseases (e.g., bovine tuberculosis)
- Bacteria that live on the skin of cows
- Environment (e.g., feces, dirt, processing equipment)
- Insects, rodents, and other animal vectors
- Humans, for example, by cross-contamination from soiled clothing and boots
- Pasteurization is the only way to kill many of the bacteria in milk that can make people very sick.
When I visited the Mackinson Dairy Farm, in Pontiac,Illinois, on a Field Mom tour, I learned about both the cleanliness of the milking parlor, as well as the importance of milk pasteurization. This is serious business for a dairy farmer. Remember, they drink their milk too. During this tour, I realized just HOW important it is to these farmers, that safe milk is what’s sent to their customers. And mind you, although their milking parlor was SPOTLESS, and every step was taken to ensure that their product remains uncontaminated, remember, it is still possible that the milk can become tainted by one of the factors above. This is why pasteurization is SO very important.
So, for me…..I will stick with what I know to be the safest possible option for my family ,and their health and safety. It’s time for breakfast here at our house….so give me a tall, cold, glass of milk….and make mine pasteurized !!!
Katie was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.