Monday, July 1, 2013

Beware of buying raw milk

Everybody knows that farm fresh, local eggs and meat taste the best and are healthier for you. The same goes for local, fresh milk. Also, everyone knows that cooking eggs and meat is a good idea in order to eliminate harmful pathogens. So then why do people get so worked up about pasteurized milk versus raw milk? Pasteurization isn’t evil. It is simply cooking the milk in order to kill any harmful bacteria or viruses that have set up shop in your milk pail. 

Milk is nature’s perfect media for bacterial and viral growth. The reason we can make cheese out of milk is because it grows bacteria so well. Unfortunately, not only does milk grow cheese bacteria really well, it can grow some nasty bacteria easily too. Raw meat and raw eggs are similar in that they have the nutrients and correct environment to grow some really nasty bugs. This is why we cook these things. Heating up eggs, meat or milk to a certain temperature for a certain period of time works to kill the bacteria and viruses that may be lurking.  

I don’t like the idea of people buying raw milk in order to drink it [insert collective gasp!]. I don’t believe that raw milk is this magical substance that is somehow able to fend off growth of bacteria and viruses. There are claims that it doesn’t spoil and that it never makes people sick. Given that milk is actually used in research as a media for growing cell cultures, I feel that there has to be some ability for raw milk to grow harmful things if handled incorrectly. 

If you buy raw milk from someone else’s farm, you have no guarantee that they handled it properly from udder to bottle. Milk in the udder should technically be sterile, unless the animal has an udder infection, AKA: mastitis. Once milk is expressed from the udder and out into the environment, it can pick up all sorts of harmful pathogens. Unless you have taken a tour of the farm and watched the farmer milk the animal before you bought the raw milk, you will have no clue if their barn is filthy or not, if the animals look healthy or not, if the farmer milks with shit on his hands or not, or if he milks into a clean, sterilized pail or a dirty bucket. Is the milk strained and cooled properly before you get it? Did it sit out in the barn for 3 hours with the barn cats drinking out of the bucket before being chilled? Did the goat step in the bucket during milking and the farmer needed to fill your order so he strained out the poop and hair and bottled it anyway? You have no way of knowing. I highly recommend anyone who is thinking of buying raw milk take a thorough tour of the farm and watch the milking process first hand. 

Another problem that raw milk presents to someone who does not live on the farm where it is grown, is that the off-farm buyers of the milk are not inoculated against the particular bacteria and viruses that are endemic to that farm. The people who live on the farm are exposed daily to the microbes of that location. They have close contact with the animals, thus they are somewhat immune to whatever bacteria and viruses the animals naturally carry around. They are also immune to what the soil of the land carries. This is very important because someone who is not from that farm could be sensitive to something that the farmer is immune to. I have heard of people getting very sick from drinking raw milk when traveling. They had not been exposed to the normal microbial fauna of that region so they became ill when they drank milk which contained normally non-pathogenic stuff. The farmer had never been sick but his guests wound up going to the hospital. 

If you are looking into switching from purchasing store-bought, pasteurized milk to farm bought raw milk, be careful! Raw milk is not a magical panacea for all your ills. In fact it can just flat out make you very ill.

1 comment:

DebH said...