If you grew up on a farm, it may have been common to take a swig of cow’s milk right from the source – no pasteurization necessary – but there are some risks to drinking unpasteurized milk and milk products, namely bacterial infections. Despite this, it is legal to sell raw milk in 30 states.
Now the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is advising pregnant women, infants and children to avoid raw milk and to consume only pasteurized milk, cheese and other dairy products. The AAP is also supportive of a ban on the sale of raw milk in the U.S.
The pediatricians group cites evidence outlining the risks of consuming these products, particularly to pregnant women and children.
“Given the progress we have made in prevention, there is no reason to risk consuming raw milk in this day and age,” said Jatinder Bhatia, MD, FAAP, a co-author of the policy statement. “Consumption of raw milk products is especially risky for pregnant women, infants, immunocompromised individuals, and the elderly, and the evidence overwhelmingly establishes the benefits of pasteurization on food safety.”
There are many proponents of raw milk consumption who believe unpasteurized milk and milk products have excellent health benefits. The Campaign for Real Milk says that anti-microbial and immune-enhancing components found in raw milk are reduced or destroyed by pasteurization. The raw milk advocates also believe that the dangers of raw milk are greatly exaggerated.
The AAP notes that the benefits of natural elements haven’t been clearly demonstrated in scientific research and that data shows pasteurized milk provides the same nutritional benefits as raw milk without the risk of deadly infections including Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Brucella and E. coli.
“Consumption of raw milk or milk products can result in severe and life-threatening illnesses such as miscarriage and stillbirths in pregnant women, and meningitis and blood-borne infections in both young infants and pregnant women,” said Yvonne Maldonado, MD, FAAP, the lead author of the policy statement. “Before pasteurization of milk began in the United States in the 1920s, consumption of raw dairy products accounted for a significant proportion of foodborne illnesses among Americans, and resulted in hundreds of outbreaks of tuberculosis and other serious infections.”
According to AAP, from 1998 to 2009, consumption of raw milk products in the U.S. resulted in 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, 93 illness outbreaks, and two deaths. Only 1 to 3 percent of all dairy products consumed in the U.S. are not pasteurized.