Consumption of raw milk is about 100 times more likely to cause foodborne illness than consumption of its pasteurized counterpart, an analysis from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has found.
The research determined that raw milk was associated with over half of all milk-related foodborne illness, even though only an estimated 3.5% of the U.S. population consumes raw milk.
The CLF analysis was prepared at the request of the Maryland House of Delegates' Health and Operations Committee as lawmakers considered relaxing regulations that currently prohibit the sale of unpasteurized milk in Maryland.
In the 2014 legislative session, House Bill 3 aimed to legalize the on-farm sale of unpasteurized milk in Maryland. The bill was tabled as legislators considered the issue. The research team presented its report to the House of Delegates last month.
Based on their findings, the researchers discourage the consumption of raw milk. Advocates believe that raw milk, which contains more natural antibodies, proteins and bacteria than pasteurized milk, is healthier, cleaner, tastes better and reduces lactose intolerance and allergies in certain people.
In contrast, Pasteurization involves heating milk to destroy microbes that may have entered the milk supply from fecal contamination, dairy operations, cow udders or other sources. The treated milk is then hermetically sealed to prevent recontamination.
Report lead author, Benjamin Davis, a CLF-Lerner Fellow and doctoral candidate in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Environmental Health Sciences, said benefits of raw milk could benefit from additional investigation, but "from a public health perspective it is a far safer choice to discourage the consumption of raw milk."
For the study, approximately 1,000 articles were screened and the researchers reviewed 81 published journal articles relevant to the health risks and benefits of consuming raw cow's milk.
"The risks of consuming raw milk instead of pasteurized milk are well established in the scientific literature, and in some cases can have severe or even fatal consequences," notes co-author Cissy Li, a CLF research assistant and doctoral candidate with the Bloomberg School's Department of Environmental Health Sciences. "Based on our findings, we discourage the consumption of raw milk, especially among vulnerable populations such as the elderly, people with impaired immune systems, pregnant women, and children."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last year released a report on foodborne illness tied to raw milk, finding that the average number of outbreaks linked to consumption of raw milk is spiking across the U.S. with more than 80% of recorded illnesses in the 30 states where raw milk sales are legal.
Currently, raw milk is prohibited from interstate commerce. In addition to the 30 states that allow its sale, another 10 states allow a form of cow share, whereby a consumer pays for a portion of the care for the cow in exchange for its milk.