Casaubon's Book

Should You Drink Raw Milk?

As I’ve mentioned, we raise our own dairy goats and milk them, and we drink the milk raw, or rather, unpasteurized. Since I wrote my last piece about the goats, I’ve had several people email me asking for advice about their dairy choices – one person living locally wanted me to sell her raw milk, two others asked if I advised people who can’t get their own livestock to source and purchase raw milk. So I thought I’d write a piece about raw milk and your options.

Perhaps the first thing I want to say is that I actually don’t have that strong an opinion on this subject, believe it or not. That is, I drink raw milk because I have raw milk. I could pasteurize it, but because we have a comparatively small number of animals, and a very, very short food chain – ie, my milk goes from the goat to a sterile jar to my kitchen to cool to another sterile jar to chill quite quickly – it doesn’t make sense. We know just what our goats are eating and we watch them closely for signs of disease. If there’s any reason to be concerned, we dump the milk.

We also have no compelling reason to pasteurize at this point – my children are all over 2, I am no longer in my breeding days, and everyone has a perfectly healthy immune system. Had we had goats when the kids were babies or I was pregnant, or with anyone with a compromised immune system, we’d pasteurize. As it is, we don’t for two reasons – the first is that we prefer the taste, particularly as we eat most of it, as yogurt and cheese, and the second is that we do think that milk in its natural form is easier to digest. I’m mildly lactose intolerant, but can use raw goat’s milk more easily than pasteurized – I’ve experimented and find that my own problem with lactase seems to be less with unpasteurized milk.

What about all the other claims that people make about the benefits of raw milk? I am completely agnostic on this subject, but I tend to suspect they are overstated. I can say with complete truth that drinking raw milk has not magically healed my child’s autism, or made my husbands allergies disappear. This, of course, is anecdotal evidence, and there does seem to be some rather uncorroborated evidence that children with allergies may benefit from raw milk, but there simply isn’t enough research to make some of the claims that people make. I’m willing to see compelling evidence for milk-as-medicine, but ultimately, I think raw milk is mostly just food. It is a very nice food, but just a food – perhaps with health benefits, also with some health risks.

To be honest, I find myself joining with Michael Pollan on this – I don’t trust the idea of food as medicine. I prefer to think of food as food. By this I mean that I don’t trust people who claim to have taken plant matter, taken it apart and isolated the single “important” part and then synthesized it and suggested we add it to our diet. I also don’t trust people on the other side of it who trumpet the magic powers of some new tropical plant to heal everything. And I don’t buy it in relationship to milk. The reality is that food has an enormous amount to do with health, and there’s some deeply crappy food out there – that said, however, none of us ever just drink milk or oat bran or Tibetan Noni Juice – the idea of the single food as savior doesn’t work for me.

That said, I admit to a mild suspicion of the claim that pasteurization has absolutely no effect on the benefits of milk – we know for example that in human milk, raising the temperature of the milk does remove beneficial elements and reduce digestibility in infants. That doesn’t mean that pasteurization isn’t beneficial – but it is a balancing act, thus, breast milk is not routinely pasteurized, although it may be to prevent the transmission of HIV or CMV. That’s not an argument, in and of itself against pasteurization, but we already know that the heat treatment of milk affects its constituent elements from considerable research into breast milk.

And raw milk may well have benefits, but it also does have risks. The reality is that milk is a perfect medium for bacteria growth – and that people have gotten ecoli, salmonella and listeria from raw milk. The FDA claims 800 illnesses from raw milk in the last twelve years – and there has been at least one serious outbreak of illness associated with raw milk, in California. It is easy to think of ecoli as a minor illness, just a little case of food poisoning, but it can be fatal, and even if it isn’t, it can make you wish it was.

The truth is that unless I’d seen the inside of the person who I was buying milk from’s barn, and seen their herd records, I’m honestly not sure that I would buy raw milk. That doesn’t mean that dairy farmers don’t handle their milk carefully – they do – but on a large scale, milking a lot of cows with equipment that moves over multiple animals, I’d be at least more cautious. And if I were pregnant or feeding a child under two, I would recommend against unpasteurized milk.

Besides taking great care in selecting a raw milk producer, honestly, I’d also remind people that if you are buying milk, you do need to treat it differently than you would pasteurized milk. I think some of the health difficulties associated with raw milk probably stem not from producers but from consumers who don’t grasp that raw milk is a more sensitive food. I think there is a real case, for example, for the beneficial bacteria in raw milk in our digestive systems – after all, we don’t pasteurize breast milk. But then again, we don’t pick up our breastmilk on an afternoon in July, carry it around in the sun for half an hour at the farmer’s market and then spend 40 minutes in a warm car with it either. Your grocery store milk may have its lifespan shortened slightly by that kind of treatment. Raw milk may be substantively changed – there’s just a lot more going on inside of it.

So if you are the sort of person who buys a half-gallon every week and drinks it for seven days, until the last glass is a little off, you won’t want to be a raw milk consumer. The truth is that I wouldn’t keep my raw milk more than three days, even in perfect cold conditions – either drink it or turn it into something that does keep, whether cheese or yogurt or kefir. If the conditions are less than perfect, you want to keep it even a shorter time. The reality is that the longer you keep living food, the more life, good and bad it will have in it.

I think raw milk should be available for sale everywhere. I also think that explicit labelling should be required – I don’t just mean a casual “read our brochure about raw milk” kind of thing but an explicit articulation of risks. At this point, however, most states don’t permit the sale of raw milk, so many people are getting it illicitly. In general, I’m pretty much in favor of illicit agriculture, and opposed to regulation, but the truth is that the milk laws emerged for compelling reasons – milk is a bacteria friendly substance that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I don’t have a problem with appropriate dairy regulation – on the other hand, that shouldn’t mean you have to spend 50K on a barn, either.

If you want raw milk, I would purchase it only after understanding the full risk-benefit analysis. I do not recommend it for pregnant women or children under 2, although I know plenty of people do drink it in those circumstances. I would either get your own dairy animal or purchase milk *only* from people who you actually develop a relationship with, after seeing their barn and handling techniques, and knowing what testing they do. I would make sure that I *always* do my milk pickup with a cooler on hand and keep it cool all the time. I would drink my milk quickly, or process it to make cheese and yogurt.

I would love to see raw milk be more available to those who do make informed choices and who want it, and I’d love to see small dairy producers able to sell it. But to do so requires a level of involvement and consciousness about your food that is simply different than picking up a quart of milk at the grocery store.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 homebrewlibrarian
    December 27, 2009

    I’m not quite so agnostic as you when it comes to raw milk but I agree that it is a different food and needs to be handled more safely. Yes, by all means, get to know the farmer and how the animals are raised, how the milking operation is handled and ask questions. The dairy I get raw milk from also sends milk to a local creamery for processing so their “raw” clients have to work around the bulk pickup.

    Practically all of my milk gets cultured into kefir. I might use fluid milk in cooking or baking but mostly I consume it as kefir or kefir cheese. I’d like to look into cheesemaking and now that the local homebrew store is carrying cheese cultures, I might just. And just like in homebrewing, sanitation is key with milk. For us in Alaska, cooler temperatures for most of the year are a plus.

    I’ve recently been made aware of the warning that children under two should not consume raw milk. I’m wondering, is this because their immune system isn’t entirely in place or that their digestive development needs more time? Or both? As I have no children, this has not been an issue for me. There are people in my milk group who do feed all their children raw milk regardless of age (but then they may fall more into the milk as medicine camp than not). But then a pregnant friend of mine has decided that milk and raw milk in particular are deadly poisons that no child of hers will ever consume. Claims that humans aren’t genetically designed to digest animal milks after a certain age. That the saturated fats can cause heart disease. And so forth. So I know people on opposite ends of the debate. Milk is food as far as I’m concerned and can be a very good one if handled properly, raw or otherwise.

    And, for the record, I’m talking about milk from pastured animals and/or fed locally grown hay and a small amount of grain once the ground freezes. I won’t touch industrial produced fluid milk and try to avoid milk products of that type when I don’t know the source (potlucks at work, eating at a friend’s place, restaurant meals that sort of thing being where I’m not so strict. Thank goodness I don’t eat out much). I do it mostly for ethical reasons but there are some health and dietary concerns as well.

    What a hot button topic this is! Thanks for a level headed approach.

    Kerri in AK

  2. #2 kate
    December 27, 2009

    I’d really like to see legislation that enables raw milk drinkers to drink safely but prohibits the commercialisation, on a large scale, of raw dairy. It just makes sense to buy and sell raw milk local and small scale.

    In New Zealand farmers can sell up to five litres per day per customer from the gate. which is fine if you live next to the farm. But it means the farmer can’t move the milk themselves. This is going to be a problem in Peak Oil terms because at the moment you have many people driving long distances to a farm instead of the farmer making one trip to a town where the drinkers are.

    I’m one of the people who can’t eat pasteurised dairy daily but who can manage with raw, so I’m pretty motivated to access raw milk. I definitely buy from the farmer direct, and feel uncomfortable with the idea of shipping raw dairy over long miles.

    I agree that raw milk consumption needs different customs. Personally I don’t mind raw milk that has started to sour. I don’t bother putting cream in the fridge because I love how it sours when left out. I get better yoghurt if I let the milk sit and come up to room temperature.

    I buy milk only once a week. For me there is a risk assessment here – I know the farmer personally and I know they drink their milk everyday before I get to it. I’m also aware that I run a small risk of food poisoning because I do transport without cooling and leave some dairy at room temperature, but the risk is worth it for me. Raw dairy has long traditional uses by peoples without fridges and it seems there is much to relearn there about risk and safety.

    I also agree to an extent with yours and Pollan’s views about food and medicine. I don’t see raw milk as a panacea, but you know some food just makes you feel really good (on many levels). I’ve had that experience with raw milk.

    There is a lot of hype on all sides of the argument about raw milk. But the fact that people are willing to go to such lengths to have access to it reflects the difference people experience directly (that’s actually empirical evidence if anyone bothered to gather it). I think part of the reason we have such a food-as-medicine cultural thing now is because we’ve been eating food that has been making us sick for quite some time now in ways that are largely unprecedented historically. However, historically food has always been used as medicine too precisely because when you get the right thing for your body, your body heals. That’s biology (as opposed to culture).

  3. #3 abbie
    December 27, 2009

    Thanks for the balanced post. Since I’m pregnant and plan to have more than one child, I’m sure I’ll continue to go the pasteurized route for at least 5 more years. After that, like you, I only want raw milk if it’s from my animal or from someone I really, really trust.

  4. #4 Annie
    December 27, 2009

    I live in Wisconsin–one of the states where raw milk is illegal. I used to get it from Scott Trautman, but when the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection started cracking down, I was out of luck. Scott has a very small organic farm–about 30-something dairy cows along with meat animals. He lost his dairy license and spoke out in favor of raw milk and is pushing for a raw milk bill. Now they’ve taken away his meat selling licenses. His livelihood is being threatened all so that big agriculture can make big money off his amazingly wonderful products. I’ve got a freezer full of meat I bought from him and every time I eat some, I’m thankful that I know the producer. I’ve seen him kiss the steers. That’s the kind of food that I want to eat–food that’s grown with love and good intentions.

    If any of you who read this live in Wisconsin and care about small farms, please contact your congress people and let them know that you’d like them to support family farms.

    Raw milk is one way that farmers can cater to a niche market and meet a need that big agriculture can’t. Oh, and it’s delicious!

  5. #5 Queef
    December 27, 2009

    Where do you come down on soy milk, Sharon? I’ve been drinking it for a few years now, but I’m not sure what the risks or benefits (if any) are. I started drinking it because I liked the taste better. Ideas?

  6. #6 opit
    December 27, 2009

    Dairy regulations and farm regulations generally favour Big Business by requiring ‘treatment’ and handling which isn’t practical on a small scale.I am going to be hard to convince that killing food so as not to ‘spread disease’ is going to leave it with more nutritional value than sawdust.

  7. #7 Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife
    December 27, 2009

    I’m fortunate enough to live in a state where raw milk is legal and tightly regulated. I get it as often as I can, but do have to go out of my way for it a bit. I’ve found that freezing it in smaller quantities helps us consume it quickly enough to avoid it getting sour or funky. Surprisingly, I’ve not been able to detect any change in the flavor of the milk; probably some of the naturally occurring bacteria don’t much care for the freeze though.

    Sharon, while I agree with you (and Pollan) about food as medicine (- in the sense that constituent parts of food are not medicine, nor that there’s a magic food out there that will cure what ails us,) I think you and Pollan also touch on the idea of diet as a whole being a very powerful “medicine.” That is, when the mainstays of our diets are whole, real, diverse foods, we tend to be healthier. It also wouldn’t surprise me if some researcher someday found that eating as hunter-gatherers or gardeners do – seasonally, from glut to glut – was also a fundamentally healthy way of eating.

  8. #8 billygroats
    December 27, 2009

    Good stuff all around. Whether or not people should or shouldn’t drink milk from other animals, we do know that people can survive and flourish quite well without it.

    Soy “milk” should be regarded more like a great kind of juice than a sub for animal milk. It’s not a direct 1-1 swap, because soy juice doesn’t have the same nutritional components as cow or goat milk. That term “soy milk” is misleading. Would anyone consider cocoanut milk to be a cow milk sub just because it’s white and tastes good?

  9. #9 Stephen B
    December 27, 2009

    If anybody cares to know, I buy raw milk because I can get it 10 minutes from my house and get it from a farmer that is still working within the shadow of a mega sports stadium-retail complex. I don’t buy it because of any amazing health claims, but I suspect it is probably more digestible than pasteurized milk, if nothing else.

    I transport it quickly and use it within a week. It simply doesn’t begin to sour in those 7 days, so I suspect the bacteria and other creature counts aren’t growing very fast. (I keep it in the back of the fridge by the air vent coming in from the freezer section – in the coldest part.) The farmer also does regular milk testing via a state-sanctioned laboratory.

    If I could buy straight from this farmer and still support her with my retail dollars and buy pasteurized, I’d probably do that just as well. That is, if she pasteurized her product, that would be fine with me too. Still, the bottom line is I trust this farmer’s milk enough to allow me to buy direct.

    If I were living 45 minutes away as some other customers of her’s do and had to transport the milk in a cooler, I wouldn’t go that far, however.

  10. #10 kate
    December 28, 2009

    The other great thing about raw milk from farms is that here at least it comes in glass or you take your own container. Being able to buy food that isn’t in plastic is a joy.

  11. #11 Queef
    December 28, 2009

    Okay, billgoats, Silk doesn’t have the same nutritional components as cow’s or goat’s milk. Still, has anyone found any significant problems with consuming a regular amount of soy?

  12. #12 Robin Datta
    December 28, 2009

    The answer can be yes, but with the proviso that the asimals are free of communicable diseases.

  13. #13 kate
    December 28, 2009

    “Still, has anyone found any significant problems with consuming a regular amount of soy?”

    Yep, lots of people. There’s whole websites devoted to the problems with unfermented soy. You can find lots of info online.

  14. #14 anon
    December 28, 2009

    What about cheese from raw milk? Does it carry the same risks?

  15. #15 kate in NY
    December 28, 2009

    Have you read Nina Planck’s books (“Real Food” and “Real Food for Mother and Baby”)? She makes pretty compelling arguments in favor of raw milk at all times – for pregnant women and babies as well (she is not a big fan with (or of) vegans, however). I haven’t actually tried raw milk, but I just found a place “over the border” in Connecticut that sells it (sounds so illicit!). Not sure if it makes sense, though, to drive 35 minutes each way just to buy some raw milk so I can “stick it” to the milk industry!

    I’m trying to convince the family that we should invest in some milk goats, but they are not quite as keen as I am . . . for some reason, my husband is not convinced that fencing our 2 acre property and building a small barn, not to mention the veterinary bills and various milking accoutrements, will actually “pay for itself” anytime in the coming decade. But I’m working on it!

    Kate

    Best,
    Kate

  16. #16 Sharon Astyk
    December 28, 2009

    I have read Nina Planck’s books, and I think she elides some of the facts about raw milk – for example, one of her books, published after the California outbreak, claims that there are no major outbreaks of illness tied to raw milk. I find that disingenuous. That’s not to say that raw milk isn’t a really good food – again, we all drink raw milk. But the cultures that evolved drinking milk raw also had a very, very short time from animal to human. We’re simply not drinking milk the same way, for the most part – you either drank it within 24 hours or you drank it fermented or processed. It isn’t that I actively disbelieve the evidence that comes from milk cultures, but I don’t think that we actually drink milk like they did, and thus, the risks are different.

    Sharon

  17. #17 abbie
    December 28, 2009

    From what I know about industrial agriculture, they’re smart enough to never sell raw milk. Their practices are way too dangerous to sell it unpasteurized. The amount of manure and other substances in it is prohibitive. Both my parents grew up on family dairy farms, my mom’s family pasteurizing and my dad’s family drinking unpasteurized. (As a side note, I laugh that my mom’s side are all about 5′ tall and my dad’s are all over 6′, but I’m pretty sure that’s unrelated to milk…) Anyway, we had a big discussion about it over the Thanksgiving table this year, and both sides tended to agree that they preferred pasteurization (both families still farm, but no dairy in the last 30 or so years). Since I didn’t grow up milking cows every day, twice a day, I take their opinions pretty seriously. Consensus seemed to be that if you’re going to drink raw milk, you better know the farmer and the cows, as well as the conditions of the barn.

    As for soy milk, you’ll never convince me that a crop grown with such huge amounts of chemicals and then processed into milk is healthier than real milk, based on processing alone.

    As for the claim that humans aren’t genetically supposed to drink milk, well that depends on your heritage. If you’re descended from herders, your chances of becoming lactose intolerant later in life are slim. If you’re descended from people who didn’t raise dairy animals, you’re chances of being lactose intolerant are higher. It’s a co-evolution thing (that was the science teacher in me coming out…) Don’t have an article to site, but go ahead and look it up, it’s commonly taught in high school biology.

  18. #18 Lora
    December 28, 2009

    I’d like to look into cheesemaking and now that the local homebrew store is carrying cheese cultures, I might just.

    Kerri: It is ridiculously easy. I highly recommend Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, and start with the 30 minute mozzarella recipe. Get the liquid rennet instead of the tablet kind though–the liquid seems to dissolve better and mix more thoroughly in the correct amounts, whereas the tablets are hard to break evenly into pieces and then dissolve well enough. You’ll have a few mistakes here and there, but if you end up with a ricotta-like substance you can always mix it with Italian seasoning and use it for ravioli filling.

    From a biochem perspective, casein is actually an interesting protein, structure-wise; cheesemaking teaches you a lot about thermal sensitivity and structure transitions that otherwise you’d never learn, because 1) lotsa proteins are fairly simple critters 2) in school, you’re often taught protein chem based on simple critters like bacterial proteins, GFP and mAbs that aren’t very sensitive to that stuff 3) hardly anyone in biotech-land works with anything other than simple critters. If your job happens to be, say, finding something non-simple, or working with a novel critter with unpredictable behavior, then cheesemaking teaches you how to handle and cultivate these more delicate, thermolabile things. You get the fabled “magic hands.” ;-)

  19. #19 Wes
    December 28, 2009

    illicit agriculture, hell yeah! Power to the people!

  20. #20 Thisbe
    December 28, 2009

    Please be aware when drinking unpasteurized milk that the danger is not only your more usual “food poisoning” kinds of bacterial unpleasantness. That is certainly a concern, and a great reason to keep the milk cool and consume it relatively quickly.
    The reason, however, that wide-scale pasteurization was introduced was zoonosis: the transmission of diseases like tuberculosis and brucellosis from dairy cattle to humans in unpasteurized milk. These diseases definitely still exist in the United States in cattle, and are a real risk in drinking unpasteurized milk.

    This doesn’t mean one should never drink raw milk, but it does mean that giving raw milk to infants or immunocompromised individuals is close to idiocy. When I myself had a cow and shared raw milk with friends, I had one cow and was exceedingly neurotic about her hygiene and the handling of the milk. When I have purchased raw milk from others, I have made sure that they also were appropriately neurotic about herd health and hygiene.

    One extremely important factor to be aware of is that many, many people who are on the Raw Milk train are also people who do not subscribe to the germ theory of disease. This means that they do not accept that food can make you sick. Please make sure not to acquire unpasteurized dairy from this kind of person; there is no guarantee that they even put much effort into cleaning the poop off the teat before milking, let alone keep tabs on the presence of transmissible zoonoses in their herds.

  21. #21 Sharon Astyk
    December 28, 2009

    Thisbe, you are right to mention TB and Brucellosis, although depending on what animal you are getting your milk from, the risk may be different. For example, the goat population in the US is deemed to be effectively B. Melitensis free, which means that though most of the milk producers I know test annually for TB and Brucellosis, your actual risk of getting them from goat milk is minute.

    I haven’t noticed a preponderance of people who don’t believe in the germ theory of disease farming and selling raw milk – honestly, most of the farmers I know (and I live in an area where agriculture is predominantly dairy) are actually pretty well educated and thoughtful. I have to admit, I’m a little put off by the “stupid farmer who doesn’t know that you can get sick from manure” thing in your comment – most farmers I know aren’t idiots. The people who seem not to grasp the basics aren’t farmers, they often are affluent (and highly educated) people who believe that somehow “natural” is equivalent to “always safe.”

    Sharon

  22. #22 Queef
    December 28, 2009

    Kate, I did searches for it, but I came up with a lot of sites that smelled suspiciously of pseudoscience. The closest common theme between what appeared to be trustworthy websites was that there could be fertility issues in men who consume a lot of soy milk.

    Sharon, can you weigh in on this?

  23. #23 Thisbe
    December 28, 2009

    Goodness, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that it’s “dumb farmers” who think you can’t get sick from food. In my experience, the kind of attitude I’m describing mostly comes from middle- and upper-middle-class individuals with an expensive education in the humanities and a philosophy of the natural world heavily informed by the Transcendentalists. (Actual farmers I’ve known and worked for and with are generally pretty well informed about reality as it pertains to their livelihood.) I was shocked the first time I heard someone tell me that the germ theory of disease is incorrect – and I am not talking about ignorance of the idea of germ theory here, but about people who have consciously rejected it in favor of something nonsensical. Often they are really into homeopathic remedies as well.

    Anyways, I met a LOT of this kind of person on tiny hobby farms in peri-urban small towns on the west coast. Many of them are really “into” raw milk in a Weston Price foundation kind of way and sell or give it to others, and it’s a little bit nerve-wracking to think about how wrong that could go.

    One of the nice things about the east coast is that there is a lot less of that kind of attitude.

  24. #24 Sharon Astyk
    December 28, 2009

    Ah, thanks for clearing that up, Thisbe – I admit, I’ve never, ever met anyone who said they didn’t believe in the germ theory of disease. I’ve met people who believed homeopathy works, but generally in a “well, it is probably a placebo effect, but I tried it and it works ok for me” way. That’s really disturbing, though, to imagine someone explicitly repudiating the germ theory of disease – how weird.

    Sharon

  25. #25 Thisbe
    December 28, 2009

    My university library’s remote server is inexplicably down today so I can’t access this whole article right now:
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/3864709

    I think it’s safe to say that milk, from whatever source, is certain to be contaminated with bacteria. It is quite likely that at least some of the time, milk will be contaminated with bacteria that are pathogenic even if the animal appears perfectly healthy, whether because of subclinical infection in the mammary gland or contamination from the outside environment.
    Most healthy adult humans can safely consume milk that contains pathogenic bacteria. And raw milk is delicious. But no matter how delicious it is, people with immune systems that aren’t working very well should probably think again about consuming it.

    (Note that AVMA recommends that all milk for human consumption be pasteurized, regardless of the health status of the milked animal. I do understand why they have to make this recommendation.)

  26. #26 kate
    December 28, 2009

    Queef, at the risk of derailing the thread ;-) you could start here:

    http://www.westonaprice.org/Soy-Alert/

    Fallon and Enig (two of the article authors) aren’t above critique, but Weston Price Foundation perspectives are grounded in both science and traditional food practices.

    Thisbe, I don’t believe that the majority of people who critique the germ theory are saying that germs don’t exist or cause disease. The alternative theory is that the state of the body’s cells is *also* a determining factor in how people get infectious disease (along with germs). It’s not an either/or (in fact it’s medical science that says there is only one cause, the germs).

  27. #27 kate
    December 28, 2009

    “But no matter how delicious it is, people with immune systems that aren’t working very well should probably think again about consuming it.”

    As someone whose immune system isn’t working very well I’ve found raw milk to increase health. Immune disorders are a very wide and disparate range of illnesses, not limited to people who have trouble fighting off infection.

    One of the things that is important to me is the principle of what the consequences are of attempting to make everything safe. Where I live TB in cattle is extremely well controlled (fortunately), so I consider the risk of contracting TB from raw milk to be very low (much lower than food poisoning). To make that a non-existent risk I would have to stop drinking raw milk, and/or drink pasteurised milk that negatively affects my health, or not eat dairy at all. But of course TB is on the rise in lower socio-economic groups (of which I am a part), so there is no way to completely protect myself from TB.

    There are many people whose health improves from drinking raw dairy. It appears to help immunity for some people. For those of us who are chronically ill this is a godsend. When you say don’t eat raw dairy you are effectively saying take a major food out of your diet or eat something that makes you more ill. Against that, the relatively low risks associated with raw dairy are acceptable risks for me.

    I agree that there are people who think natural = inherently safe, but I’m not sure they are outnumbered by the equally under-informed “science is the thing keeping us safe” people. Science doesn’t make us safe, it just changes the risk assessment (sometimes beneficially, sometimes not).

  28. #28 vera
    December 28, 2009

    Fabulous thread. I got into raw goat milk this year. Love visiting the farm and getting acquainted with the farm family and the “girls.”
    I much prefer to have relatively clean raw milk than filthy milk that has been hard-pasteurized and overhandled and trucked and all that nonsense. Americans worry way too much about a bit of bacteria in food… and not enough about its quality. Yes, I am immune-compromised, and I am not worried. And I know the goat farm sells to parents of food-allergic sick babies who do better with it.

    What milk I don’t use in several days, I set on top of the fridge where it’s — gasp — warm, and let it clabber. I have been making delicious creme fraiche and cottage cheese out of it, no rennet or cultures needed. This coming year I will get the cultures and get into chevre. Can’t wait, this has been so simple and rewarding!

  29. #29 Sharon Astyk
    December 28, 2009

    Kate, you clearly have made up your mind for yourself after some research and didn’t need my advice anyway ;-). I was responding to people who did ask it – and I’m afraid anecdotal accounts aren’t enough to make me change my advice. Someone who can’t fight off exposure to some of the nastier bacteria – listeria, for example, is someone who IMHO, shouldn’t be drinking raw milk on my recommendation. But that doesn’t mean that everyone who has made a decision for themselves needs to listen to me ;-).

    I would say that medical science doesn’t claim that the body’s cellular response has nothing to do with disease – I think that’s a complete misprision. Nor would I claim that “science keeps us safe” – but I do think that there is a reasoning behind the milk laws – and a history that bears keeping in mind. Milk is a substance that biologically is not meant to be kept long past the production point – its natural function is to be consumed as it is produced, and kept safely in a body. So we’re pushing milk to its limits the way humans use it anyway – and it is wise, I think, to be very cautious about how we push those limits.

    Sharon

  30. #30 Lisa Z
    December 28, 2009

    As usual, the voice of common sense, Sharon. (Wait! did I just say that?! What am I thinking???) For a while we were driving 10 miles out of town to an organic farm to pick up raw milk in our own containers, the only way it’s legal in Minnesota (and still “under the table” just a bit). Then gas went up to $4 a gallon and even with that raw milk being $3 a gallon (as compared to $5-6/gallon for organic milk in the grocery store), the cost got too high. So, gas prices are down now but the inconvenience of driving that far for milk when the grocery store and/or co-op sell local, organic, non-homogenized milk within 1-3 miles of my house was just too much (and we don’t drink/use enough so the raw was always going bad). I now buy said local, organic, non-homogenized but pasteurized milk and I don’t feel bad about it. I am going to try making yogurt with it more often, as that does up the digestibility and nutrition factor, but dang I’ve had so many yogurt failures that I think I’m splurging on a yogurt maker soon.

  31. #31 kate
    December 28, 2009

    Thanks Sharon. I think my last posts were more in response to Thisbe than your general position, but that’s probably bad poster protocol on my part ;-)

    I agree that we are pushing milk beyond it’s natural limits. I just don’t see acute illness caused by bacteria as necessarily worse than chronic illness caused by removing bacteria and changing the fundamental nature of a food by high, fast heat. That just leaves the option of everyone having their own house cow, which I must admit seems an eminently sensible solution to the problem ;-)

    I’m interested in vera’s post. Clabber seems a good solution and I’d be happy to learn to like clabbered milk like I do cream. Possibly the fridge the is crux here. All the information I have read on raw dairy is written by people that refrigerate, so it’s very hard to get information based on experience or science about how fermenting changes bacterial loads, and what’s safe, because everyone is controlling that by keeping things very cold.

  32. #32 Stephen B
    December 28, 2009

    I didn’t mention TB or brucellosis in my earlier comments because they just aren’t worth thinking about in my part of the world. Cattle are tested for brucellosis, also known as undulant fever, at least once a year. Still, cows haven’t tested positive for either disease around the eastern MA. area in decades and cows that test positive are destroyed. Calves are also all vaccinated for brucellosis by law.

    Canada was declared brucellosis-free back in 1985, and there isn’t much left in the US, although there is a reservoir of brucellosis in wild bison in the Yellowstone, Wyoming area that could easily be passed onto domestic animals there.

    TB is more of a threat, but again, cattle are tested regularly.

    All in all, those two zoonosises just aren’t much of a concern any more.

  33. #33 Sharon Astyk
    December 28, 2009

    I tend to agree with Stephen, and they are even less of a factor for people with goats (I have no idea about sheep, mares and waterbuffalo ;-)).

  34. #34 Tammy and Parker
    December 28, 2009

    I have finally (finally!) convinced Parker’s Pedi, surgeon, GI, etc. to support me on a blenderized whole foods diet rather than can after can of Pediasure.

    This is pretty huge to say the least. And with them on board insurance will pay to have us followed by a nutritionalist……which is important to me until I get the hang of this.

    The only thing I had to promise was not to give my medically fragile kid raw milk. The childrens hospital has so many medically fragile kids coming in due to issues with raw milk.

    So we will be going the pasteurized route.

    My question is, goat’s milk over cow milk? And I’ll obviously need to get this from either the health food store or the one store locally that carries organic.

    The organic goat milk is way more expensive than the organic cow milk. Almost three times as much.

    Pediasure is covered for us, but the blenderized diet comes out of our pockets. Pockets already pretty empty from other medical expenses. So while my first goal is optimal nutrition, cost is being eyeballed as well.

    His recipe calls for 2 cups of milk or milk substitute.

    And finally…..what about powdered goat milk?

    Thanks!

    Tammy and Parker
    http://www.prayingforparker.com

  35. #35 osmanlı iksiri
    December 29, 2009

    One of the things that is important to me is the principle of what the consequences are of attempting to make everything safe. Where I live TB in cattle is extremely well controlled (fortunately), so I consider the risk of contracting TB from raw milk to be very low (much lower than food poisoning).

  36. #36 Sharon Astyk
    December 29, 2009

    Tammy, congratulations – I’m really happy for you. I would say that if Parker shows no major problems with digesting cow milk, it is probably much cheaper and easier for you to find cow than goat. I would try cow’s milk and then switch to goat only if you have to, given the additional cost. Nutritionally they are much the same – there’s some debate about whether goat’s milk is more digestible, but if it isn’t an issue for your son, he’ll get the same value from organic cow’s milk.

    Sharon

  37. #37 Kate
    December 29, 2009

    I am a supporter of raw milk consumption. I have been for quite a number of years. It has in part cut out on the need for my two ashtmatic daughters to injest steroids on a daily basis. I believe this to be a good thing. I think good food keeps your body in better balance thus eliminating the need to put foreign non-food products into your system and run the wonderful risks of an abundant amount of side-effects.
    Just my two cents.

  38. #38 Thisbe
    December 29, 2009

    Kate -

    Medical science certainly does not claim that germs are the single cause of disease.

    If you have thought again about drinking raw milk and came to conclusion that it is safe enough for you, hooray!

    Regarding the specific zoonoses I mentioned: yes, brucellosis is generally only present in a small area of the west in cattle. TB is a little more problematic; yes, testing is routinely done and infected animals destroyed, but infected animals are still found. Tubercular lesions can be present in the udders, and asymptomatic individuals can shed bacteria in the milk. Nor are these the only zoonoses of concern, though they are the two historically biggest (and the reason for the introduction of wide-scale pasteurization in the first place, with the hugely beneficial effect on public health that followed).
    The odds are good that a particular healthy-looking cow will not be shedding more pathogenic bacteria in her milk than a healthy person can handle, but risk still exists.
    (Moreover, milking by hand into an open bucket adds a huge new constellation of risk; to pathogens present in the goat or cow, we add pathogens present on the skin of the milked animal, in the air, on the hands of the milker, and in the bucket.)

    I am not in any way saying that nobody should take this risk. Just that I think people are often poorly informed about it. Many advocates of raw milk will tell you flat out that there’s no real health risk to foregoing pasteurization, and it’s just not true.
    But I should probably not reveal exactly how much completely raw eggnog I have consumed in the past week, it makes me look like a little bit of a glutton.

    As a final note, as someone who has been into a variety of both small-scale raw dairies and large-scale commercial dairies, I have to say that it is not my conclusion that there is a higher standard of hygiene in the home raw dairies. It’s generally not lower, either (at least across the board; there are certainly situations where, for instance, a family cow or family couple-of-goats are milked in circumstances that raise the eyebrows), except for the open bucket vs milking machine distinction. But I don’t think the claim that bigger dairies need to pasteurize because they’re “filthy” while home dairies don’t because they’re “clean” holds too much water.
    I have seen far too few home milking operations with even appropriate bucket-sterilization procedures to believe that.
    (State-certified raw dairies are another story – pretty much nothing is cleaner than that.)

  39. #39 PalMD
    December 29, 2009

    Comparing human milk to livestock milk isn’t at all appropriate. The potential pathogens are completely different. HIV, for example, is unique to humans, and transmission can be reduced with drug treatment. In many areas, however, the risk of starvation is such that it’s safer to risk HIV then avoiding mother’s milk.

    Cow’s milk harbors enteric pathogens, listeria, and brucella, among other things. While there are compelling reasons to eat mother’s milk, there are no compelling reasons to consume animal milk that is unpateurized. There are no known added health benefits to unpasteurized milk. We don’t count on antibodies passed from cows (as we might with moms) so there’s no reason to worry about denaturation of immunoglobulins. The risk is much greater than the aesthetic benefits and there are no significant health benefits.

    Folk who live on farms should be legally able to consume whatever they make, but they should NOT be allowed to sell unpasteurized milk or queso fresco.

    I’m more agnostic about aged cheeses.

  40. #40 Sharon Astyk
    December 29, 2009

    PalMD, you’ve misunderstood my claim – my claim is not that human milk and cow (or goat or water buffalo) milk are the same, but that we do know that pasteurization temperature do remove some of finer nutritional qualities of breast milk, and that that’s probably true of other milks as well.

    My claim is not “don’t pasteurize” but that the argument put forward pasteurized milk must be qualitatively the same doesn’t pass the sniff test. I don’t necessarily even disagree that the risk-benefit equation for raw milk doesn’t justify seeking it out, but I don’t think it is clear that pasteurization does nothing that matters to milk. That said, if I didn’t raise my own, I wouldn’t seek out raw milk.

    My feeling is that people should be able to make informed choices and purchase what they want, food wise. We allow them to purchase cigarettes, liquor, transfats and all sort of other things. Regulation of raw milk sales almost exclusively impacts small farmers, while we permit many harmful other substances to be sold that benefit primarily larger corporations. Raw milk farmers should be required to test regularly for TB and Brucellosis as well as doing regular bacterial counts, and ideally, they should be able to provide pasteurized milk as well or instead (a 30,000 pasteurizer is required for most farms selling milk off the farm, which would be prohibitive), pasteurized by simple kitchen methods. Consumers should get warning labels, and then should be able to purchase raw milk for both stupid and good purposes, as for the making of aged cheeses, which many people do at home.

    Sharon

  41. #41 kate
    December 29, 2009

    Thisbe,

    “Kate -
    Medical science certainly does not claim that germs are the single cause of disease.”

    That’s right, and if you read my post carefully you’ll see I didn’t say that :-)

    PalMD,

    The theory about conferred immunity benefits from raw dairy is that it’s the presence of beneficial bacteria that makes the difference. AFAIK this kind of benefit has been established for yoghurt (pasteurised). I don’t know if any research has been done on raw dairy.

  42. #42 Rogue Epidemiologist
    December 29, 2009

    I study listeriosis, and I would have to say the single most unpleasant part of my job is when (as a routine part of my surveillance) I have to call up a woman who has just miscarried because she had contracted Listeria via consumption of unpasteurized dairy. Those interviews are just heartbreaking. Education about the risks of unpasteurized dairy is part of the interview, and it only doubles the women’s anguish to know that their loss could have been avoided if they would have simply not eaten that cheese or not drank that milk.

    The raw dairy argument seems so narrowly focused on the seemingly idyllic farms that serve upper-middle class urbanites who long for some kind of culinary link to a life more bucolic. But in fact, a lot of raw dairy consumers are poor Latinos who import their cheese and milk from their home countries (where Brucella et al are rampant), or they harvest their own dairy in the uS, but don’t abide by stringent hygiene practices.

    As for any endorsement of the Weston Price Foundation or their methods, I would strongly question any group whose main beliefs are centered about research from 1919. Soy milk has been enjoyed in Asia for hundreds, if not thousands, of years; many people (including me) still enjoy its benefits.

  43. #43 Lori Scott
    December 29, 2009

    When you are milking, you need to milk every day. Milking each day provides your milking animal with the best routine and results in fresh product each day.

    Logically, you should use the fresh milk each day and if any is left at the end of the day, that then becomes yoghurt, cheese or animal food.

    If you wish to milk, you will also need to sour your milk for your poultry (as a protein and calcium boost) or use it to fatten pigs. The cats and the dogs will benefit also at the end of the day.

    So milking for your own consumption is not a decision made in isolation – you do it in balance with the rest of your needs. And don’t panic too much about the ability of the milk to harbour germs – you soon adapt to raw milk unless you are unforgivably lazy about using boiling hot water on your milking buckets and appliances. Hot is not good enough – it must be boiling.

  44. #44 NJ
    December 29, 2009

    Left unmentioned so far is a discussion of liability. A slip-up in hygiene somewhere along the path of the raw milk (an inevitable occurrence) could well lead to a disease outbreak, followed by lawsuits.

    The current, mostly below-the-radar, raw milk economy can clearly survive without huge liability bonds/insurance policies. But if it becomes formally permitted in general, it might well also become too expensive to operate.

  45. #45 MemeGene
    December 29, 2009

    To echo those above – thank you for an excellently written, lucid, and thoughtful post. I am not a milk drinker though I do consume ice cream, cheese, and yogurt. My family tends to have lactose intolerance, and while I myself don’t experience it noticeably, I do find that conventional dairy products leave me with a phlegmy buildup that raw milk cheese does not induce.

    I’m right there with you on the likelihood of digestive differences between raw and pasteurized milk; acknowledging the loss of some benefit does not make the case for avoiding bacterial contamination any weaker. It does demonstrate that food policy writers can conduct multilayered and realistic discussions of risk-benefit calculus.

    Same goes with allowing raw milk to be sold so long as it is clearly labeled as such. Given the pressure by many food processing corporations to NOT label many food products accurately, it’s rather silly that we as a society are so paranoid as to disallow a clearly labeled risky food to be available to those who choose to consume it.

  46. #46 Sharon Astyk
    December 29, 2009

    Rogue Epidemiologist, it is true that we’re focused on local US dairy here, and often serving affluent consumers (our own animals don’t serve affluent consumers – we’d qualify for food stamps in the next state over, but that’s a matter of preferring time to money). I certainly wouldn’t understate the cost of listeriosis for any pregnant woman – or recommend that pregnant women drink raw milk. As I said, were I still in my breeding days, we’d be pasteurizing.

    As for the focus on affluent dairy consumers – my interest is in large part in dairy farmers, who are not affluent by any means. Perhaps you don’t track the situation for dairy farmers in the US, but while their land may be idyllic, a good portion of them are constantly in danger of losing it. My feeling is that allowing small family farmers to profit directly from demand for raw milk – with full disclosure of the risks – would be better than the present method, where “under the table” raw milk is being distributed for both producers and consumers.

    Sharon

  47. #47 Thisbe
    December 29, 2009

    I guess I feel a little confused, Kate, when you say “(in fact it’s medical science that says there is only one cause, the germs)”, but then later say (in response to my statement that medical science does not claim that germs are the single cause of disease), “That’s right, and if you read my post carefully you’ll see I didn’t say that.”
    It’s hard for me to see what you DID say, in that case.

    Regardless.

    It’s hard to know how to allow small farmers to safely sell raw milk. In states where I have lived and seen state-certified raw dairies, the capital outlay for equipment was significant. We’re talking milking machine, appropriately-constructed and clean room for handling milk, commercial refrigerators, and a commericial dishwasher. These are the sorts of thing that a backyard farmer – someone with a family cow – cannot afford unless there is significant off-farm income, in which case call me cynical but I have trouble caring whether their enterprise breaks even. A larger but still not huge dairy, one that’s already selling commercially, will have these things, but honestly that kind of farm is unlikely to be willing to shoulder the financial and emotional liability risk of selling milk raw.

    When it comes right down to it, I feel okay about the idea that if a person really, really needs the raw milk that badly, maybe the person should by his or her own dairy animal. Or at least make close enough friends with someone who has one that the milk can be acquired extra-legally. The raw milk food chain needs to be short, both in physical and temporal distance, in order to keep the risks even moderately acceptable.

  48. #48 Isis the Scientist
    December 29, 2009

    Is there going to be an underground raw milk trade? The first jug is free to get you hooked, but after that you’ve gotta pay?

  49. #49 rickdog
    December 29, 2009

    There is a lot of fear-mongering about the dangers of food-borne illness attributed to raw milk in this thread. It’s easy to make anecdotal arguments, such as miscarriages due to raw milk, but this is true for ANY segment of our food supply, no food is completely safe. The raw milk proponents say that raw milk is not significantly more dangerous than other segments of our food supply, are they lying or misinformed? I’ve yet to see direct side-by-side studies of raw-milk vs other foods regarding food borne illness, and until that evidence is presented one cannot make an informed judgement.

  50. #50 rickdog
    December 29, 2009

    Rogue Epidemiologist, could you elucidate on your statement “As for any endorsement of the Weston Price Foundation or their methods, I would strongly question any group whose main beliefs are centered about research from 1919.”

    What are you referring to regarding 1919? What I’ve read there is quite recent. They were warning us years ago about the dangers of low-fat diets and recent studies corroborate their stance. Their assessment on the dangers of soy is in-depth and well grounded in scientific principles, what do you disagree with in particular? I’m willing to learn being only a layman.

  51. #51 vera
    December 30, 2009

    Kate, I do it like my grandmother did it. Just set the milk in a warmish place, let it clabber (takes a few days at least in the winter), then either filter directly to get creme fraiche (tastes rich, like a cross btw sour cream and soft cottage cheese) or heat a bit then filter, and get cottage cheese. I don’t like to use rennet because it makes the cottage cheese gummy tasting. The process can be speeded up with some lemon juice but so far I haven’t tried. Frankly, I like the idea of having the milk colonized by local bacteria…

    In the old days, they used to “sterilize” milk pails and jars by washing out then sticking upside down on the fence post, letting the sun sterilize it! It seems to me that things are easier to keep clean nowadays… yet people fuss.

    As for the professionals here, why don’t you help people do what they want to do… better? Rather than forbid and regulate things in such a way that serves the megamilkbiz? I am not interested in any pinhead or bureaucrat telling me that I can’t buy milk from a neighbor. Bad for me, bad for the neighbor, bad for human self-determination, bad for local ag. Stop infantilizing us! If raw milk could use being safer, then work with us, not against us.

  52. #52 Scrabcake
    December 30, 2009

    Being as I am a resident of northern California and therefore an expert on the subject, I’ve noticed a bit of overlap in the communities who demand to be able to take stupid risks and the communities for whom nothing that ever happens as a result of their being stupid is ever their fault. Dairy farmers are a wise bunch it seems and will probably take note when the risk of liability from unseen microbes outweighs the possible financial benefits of selling raw milk to the affluent suburban green types.
    All this business about raw milk and vaccines = autism just serves to solidify my conviction that any kid I have is going to be drinking formula getting shots and eating from the Fannie farmer cookbook.

  53. #53 Scrabcake
    December 30, 2009

    I drank formula, ate gerber baby food and probably a few bugs from the garden. I have a baseball card collector’s attitude toward vaccines. My parents are great people who love me and I turned out just fine. How is THAT for anecdotal evidence!

  54. #54 kate
    December 30, 2009

    Thisbe,

    “I guess I feel a little confused, Kate, when you say “(in fact it’s medical science that says there is only one cause, the germs)”, but then later say (in response to my statement that medical science does not claim that germs are the single cause of disease), “That’s right, and if you read my post carefully you’ll see I didn’t say that.”
    It’s hard for me to see what you DID say, in that case.”

    What I said was that people who critique the germ theory don’t generally deny that germs have a role (as you had suggested). I then said that medicine takes the view that infectious diseases are caused solely by the pathogen. It’s true that things that affect immunity like stress and concurrent illness are being more acknowledged by medicine but in general influenza is caused by a virus, skin infections by bacteria, etc. Holistic medicine takes the view that virus, bacteria what have you is one factor amongst many and so the responses to the illness are quite different.

    My reply to your later post was just to point out that I was talking about infectious diseases with pathogen involvement, not all disease. Hope that clarifies :-)

    Vera,

    “Kate, I do it like my grandmother did it. Just set the milk in a warmish place, let it clabber (takes a few days at least in the winter), then either filter directly to get creme fraiche (tastes rich, like a cross btw sour cream and soft cottage cheese) or heat a bit then filter, and get cottage cheese. I don’t like to use rennet because it makes the cottage cheese gummy tasting. The process can be speeded up with some lemon juice but so far I haven’t tried. Frankly, I like the idea of having the milk colonized by local bacteria…”

    Me too :-) So you are letting the milk sit for long enough so the whey separates out and then straining, did I get that right?

    This is another reason people like raw milk – you can’t clabber pasteurised milk. There is a whole community of people who eat unpasteurised fermented foods because of the health benefits. Milk fits into that.

  55. #55 kate
    December 30, 2009

    Hey rickdog, well done on the other thread ;-)

  56. #56 film izle
    December 30, 2009

    I agree that raw milk consumption needs different customs. Personally I don’t mind raw milk that has started to sour. I don’t bother putting cream in the fridge because I love how it sours when left out. I get better yoghurt if I let the milk sit and come up to room temperature.

  57. #57 Ankur Kaushik
    December 30, 2009

    Well, according to Indian culture there is no harm in drinking raw milk. Certainly, people in India do drink raw milk. Yes raw milk has germs, we need to boil it to get them off. The industrial process for this is called as Pasteurization. And one more thing, Bovine TB spread by this way of raw milk only.

  58. #58 Sharon Astyk
    December 30, 2009

    I’m not sure why someone would assume that someone who drinks raw milk is necessarily anti-vaccine. I see the entire range of that happening here, but maybe, as they say, California really is different. ;-)

    Scrabster, I really hope you are joking about formula – the evidence in favor of breastfeeding is overwhelming.

    Sharon

  59. #59 Dacks
    December 30, 2009

    Sharon,
    There is quite a bit of overlap between the antivaxxers and raw milk drinkers. I believe a lot of this comes from the Weston Price Foundation followers. The WAP website is worth checking out: you can find homeopathy, Anthroposophical Medicine, biodynamic agriculture, and alarming, unsubstantiated “facts” about the dangers of soy.

    There is a WAP group in my neck of the woods, so I tried the raw milk for a time or two. My kids did not like the flavor – it was quite cowy – or the heavy fat mouthfeel. I am almost entirely lactose-intolerant so I never drink milk, nor does it leave a gaping hole in my diet. I do eat and enjoy most cheeses.

  60. #60 MemeGene
    December 30, 2009

    Given how violently some comments label raw milk as a danger second only to untreated nuclear waste, I’m really questioning the wisdom of consuming milk in general, even pasteurized. Do we really want to consume something that is THAT hazardous in its normal state? Maybe it’s an American thing – we’re still the main country that consumes milk as a beverage, right? Most other countries use milk in fermented or otherwise processed (ie: cheese) states.

  61. #61 Dacks
    December 30, 2009

    On what do you base your suspicion of nutritional value of pasteurized vs. raw milk? It seems to me that this topic is well studied, showing that a certain small percentage of vitamins and nutrients are lost, and that good pasteurization techniques can minimize the loss.

    I question whether this difference is significant when compared with the natural variation in milk quality due to age, season, fodder, etc.

    BTW, I support your right to drink milk from your own goats, but I’m not sure the broader raw-milk movement is one I want to get behind. (That’s an odd image, isn’t it!)

  62. #62 Lora
    December 30, 2009

    Kate: “This is another reason people like raw milk – you can’t clabber pasteurised milk.”

    Can. You cannot clabber the UHT pasteurized milk, the shelf-stable Parmalat type, true, but regular-temp pasteurized, you sure can. It goes better if you add some starter culture–just a teaspoon or two of the last batch added to freshly-opened quart of regularly-pasteurized milk does the trick.

    Public health note that I learned from making cheese in my kitchen: It takes some doing to find a particular dairy with consistent pasteurization temperatures. Even the very large commercial dairies do not reach consistent pasteurization temperatures in all their batches. I found this out because, as kate notes, it’s nigh-impossible to get UHT pasteurized milk to curdle properly, and often you get this nasty goopy mix of half-set curds from milk that has been unevenly pasteurized–that is, half of it got cooked and the other half stayed cold. The only way for the home cheese-obsessed foodie to deal with this, other than keeping livestock, is to try small batches with milk from several different dairies until you find a consistently-pasteurized brand.

    Now, as any microbiologist knows, if a portion of the milk is not reaching the appropriate temperature in many commercial dairies, then what exactly is the scope of the non-pasteurization issue? In my neck of the woods, we’ve had listeriosis outbreaks from dairies that do pasteurize, so it would not surprise me one bit to find out that uneven heating during pasteurization means quite a lot of milk labeled “pasteurized” is nothing like; for this reason (and others), I wish very much that we would switch from process control-focused food safety laws to outcomes-based food safety laws. That is, if any food product contains more than (some amount) of bacteria, it is unacceptable for consumption, regardless of whether it comes from ConAgra or Joe Farmer.

  63. #63 MemeGene
    December 30, 2009

    That is, if any food product contains more than (some amount) of bacteria, it is unacceptable for consumption, regardless of whether it comes from ConAgra or Joe Farmer.

    If you could find a way to get the large corporations to submit to independent testing standards without interfering with the reported results, I’ll cook you a seven course meal. :)

    However, I still want to have accurate labeling and tracking in place for information purposes – in the event that consumers are made sick through unknown vectors, it is vital to be able to trace back to sources so we can keep learning more about food safety. This includes allowing farmers to put a label on their milk saying it wasn’t produced with added rBGH if that is a fact of the process (some states don’t allow these labels because conventional producers are afraid of loss of sales from competition).

    In the end, the consumer must take an active role in making food decisions, and the only way to do this is to require that relevant information be made available to the public.

  64. #64 Lora
    December 30, 2009

    MemeGene: Oh, I agree absolutely about tracking and labeling! In fact I believe it would be easy to do much cheaper than our current process-focused method–would require some serious computer upgrades at a USDA-type database center, but a bar code-type tracking software could be made available quite inexpensively for small farmers. Bar code readers are cheap enough, and the software could be distributed very low cost or free.

    But yeah, testing standards. However, I gotta say, it’s way easier to pay a BS-level microbio grad to run a Scan RDI and LC/MS than it is to send a PhD-level FDA and/or USDA and/or state health inspector to inspect, critique, consult, assist in re-design, sample a bunch of facilities and then hand the samples off for Scan RDI and LC/MS.

    Apparently there do exist methods to microfilter bacteria and spores out of milk, they are just not extensively used in the US. Is there any scientific reason why pasteurization would be preferable to microfiltration? I should think that filtration would be a preferable method of sterilization, as you would lose flux as soon as there was significant membrane fouling–giving you a built-in method of ensuring that every batch was consistently clean.

  65. #65 kate
    December 30, 2009

    That’s interesting Lora – I don’t drink pasteurised milk so I’ve never tried to clabber it but people tell me that it doesn’t sour properly, it just goes off and rank (presumably due to the lack of bacteria naturally in milk that help it ferment). What kind of starter are you meaning? I thought the point of clabber was that you didn’t need a starter (unlike yoghurt, kefir etc).

  66. #66 Lora
    December 30, 2009

    Kate: Yes, a starter like yogurt, although in this case it’s more like a buttermilk starter. There are some cultures sold from cheesemaking supply stores for buttermilk starter, sour cream starter, etc. that work well enough. Clabber happens because of lactobacilli that are normally killed by pasteurization, so if you add a large dose of them to pasteurized-and-cooled milk, they will happily grow and curdle for you.

    Making clabber without starter, as you describe, is sort of like making sourdough without yeast–it’s certainly possible to catch a good wild yeast/bacteria mix, but unless you’re quite lucky you’ll get more than your share of skunked batches. It depends very much on where you live and how dusty your kitchen is. My kitchen and basement are constantly contaminated with critters that do not make for a good sourdough or a good fermented dairy product, so I have to use starters in everything. Although I gotta say, I actually prefer the starters now: they are re-culturable and everything comes out far more consistent than it did when I tried to catch wild yeasts and lactobacilli.

  67. #67 MemeGene
    December 31, 2009

    So, this isn’t milk, but it is still bovine. And what went on in this story regarding exemptions made for processors, labeling coverups, and a still-unacceptable product is EXACTLY the sort of thing that worries me:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html

  68. #68 Sharon Astyk
    December 31, 2009

    Dacks, I don’t claim that it is nutritionally superior – I merely object to the claim that there is no difference – as you say, there’s a documented loss of nutrients, which is small, and which IMHO, in most cases justifies pasteurization.

    I can understand people’s objections to the raw milk movement – honestly, I’d be happy if farmers were allowed to sell pasteurized milk direct to consumers through small scale pasteurization – but the equipment for standard pasteurization acceptable to the USDA is so very expensive that this is virtually impossible.

    Sharon

  69. #69 vera
    December 31, 2009

    Kate, I generally use it right after it thickens, I don’t wait for the whole “cake” to separate. That could be preferable if people want a really firm cottage cheese though. I heat it to hot (finger safe) then let cool and strain in a bag. But for creme fraiche, I decant it without heating into the cloth, put a rubber band around the bowl to hold the cloth in place, and then mix and scrape every so often to permit the whey to filter out. If you put it in a drip bag it’s so soft it tends to clog it. But then if you use a loose weave it might not. I use a flour sack towel.

    Pasteurized milk will clabber if the temp used is not high. The big culprit though is homogenization; homogenized cow’s milk rots instead of clabbering.

    Lora: “switch from process control-focused food safety laws to outcomes-based food safety laws” — what a sensible idea! Count me in.

    Someone mentioned buttermilk. You cannot make real buttermilk via starters. Real buttermilk is the byproduct of slightly fermented butter production. It is heavenly, with flakes of butter floating in it. The cultured stuff in the stores is mostly whey that has been cultured. Why do Americans put up with it? To label it buttermilk is a flat out lie.

  70. #70 Jon H
    December 31, 2009

    “He lost his dairy license and spoke out in favor of raw milk and is pushing for a raw milk bill. ”

    I’m sorry, but apparently it’s a religion and/or fetish for some people. If you lose your livelihood over selling raw milk, you seriously need to check your priorities, because you’re not thinking straight.

    It’s a fad. Get over it.

  71. #71 Annie
    December 31, 2009

    Jon H:

    The dairy farmer’s priorities are being a good steward of his land and growing a business that he will be proud to pass on to his children.

    And it’s not a fad. People have been drinking raw milk for as long as they’ve been milking animals–and I’m sure that’s longer than any fad I’ve heard of.

  72. #72 Keri Jo Rinke
    January 2, 2010

    Yup, you did it. I read every raw milk commentary that I come across to see if the reader did – it. They write all that they have to say about raw milk, pro or con, and then there is the disclaimer (it.) There is always the neatly tucked (usually 4-6 paragraphs in) almost parenthetical dislaimer that says that raw milk can carry listeriosis, campylobacter, e coli, etc. My disclaimer…so can any raw food. We aren’t writing articles about whether it is a good idea to eat spinach or tomatoes in the raw. How many food sources have been recalled this year that were raw!? Why is milk such a hot button issue. Breast milk, goat milk, cow milk. I think this is some latent Freudian need to get Mom.

    I long for a time that the science education of our children and our nations populous is good enough that these comments would be as mundane as stating that the sky is blue. [Sung to the tune of Madonna's Material World] “And we are living in a bacterial world and I am a bacterial girl…”

    I own a micro-dairy and also drink my milk raw. Like yourself I do not feel strongly about the drinking of raw or pasteurized milk. What I do feel VERY strongly about is the concept of food sovereignty. I do not wish to be told that I cannot drink it, or where to buy it. We, in the state of Georgia, and in the smaller hamlet of Athens, have recently been informed by FDA agents that we cannot drive 45 minutes to South Carolina (where raw milk sales are legal) and purchase it for our own consumption and transport it back into our own state. So we park and consume it at the border, on the hood of the car, cigarette packs rolled up in our t-shirt sleeves, we poor it down our shirt fronts, and take photographs with it dripping from our chins. I can just see it *Scene one. The Georgia, South Carolina border and its new customs patrol* “Ma’am (in a tight southern drawl) may I see your jugs?”

    Some rights are self evident(cue Battle Hymn of the Republic now.) The right to fill my pie hole with milk straight from the teat seems like one to me. I can sclerose my liver ’til the cows come home (pun intended,) legally, anywhere in Georgia.

    Dude – we’ve lost our freakin’ minds. There are bigger fish to fry…and you can buy those raw at any sushi bar. Beware, they may contain listeriosis, campylobacter, and e coli.

  73. #73 athomeinAust.
    January 3, 2010

    Here in Australia; one cannot buy unpasturized milk; either. We have our own goat (soon to be getting a few more) and use it raw – at the moment we don’t have enough with just our one goat (hence the getting more); but given the option between the raw goat’s milk and the pasturized; homogenised cows’ milk; my step son doesn’t care; my daughter specifically asks for goat’s milk most of the time. Taste wise; we prefer the anglo nubians’ milk; but the same goes across the board; obviously; bacterium; etc. wise. If one’s drinking it strait away; I don’t see the problem with it – it is the shipping multtitudes of miles that often causes the problem; and not keeping it cool enough. In the case of share farming; why is that a problem; either? If there are correct warning labels on it; then shouldn’t that be people choice? People eat salami and similar; brie and similar; as someone else mentioned, sushi and similar; and mostly they don’t have any sort of warning labels on them and can cause just as much health issues. I’ve had more problems getting milk from a supermarket – getting it where it already smells off; both when I was in the USA and here in Aust.; than I have with our own goat’s milk; and I know what she’s eating; I know she’s healthy; well fed; and loved to bits; not just some random face in a herd. Why is it a crime for my neighbor; who is well educated in the risks; as well; who has seen us milk her; to have some of any excess we may have for his own use – fresh; strait from her; not sitting for days or whatever in some giant fridge.
    As people have mentioned here; it is about labelling; if someone is aware of the risks and choose to take it upon themselves; isn’t that their doing? I have a cople of friends who have been horribly sick eating processed food; one from fried chicken from a petrol station; another from catsup at a top restaurant; there’s been that many recalls over the years for that ham; that cheese; that batch of milk – and these are all routinely; supposedly controlled; marketed foods. If people are going to make such a fuss over milk – they should put a label on any and all foods that are meat or milk derived at all. You should have warning signs on gas station and restaurant doors that you may get sick if you eat in their establishment.
    Is it worth it? Or is it EXTREMELY over the top? I’d got the latter – and it seems that milk has taken the brunt of it all; when there’s no reason it should be looked at more than anything else…

  74. #74 Marya
    August 23, 2010

    Ofcourse breastmilk doesnt need boiling / pasturising before your baby drinks it because its from human to human! From animal to human its a differnet issue firstly the compounds are not 100/100 the same and those that are they are also different in quantity thus care need to be taken… so sorry I would rather have a few mgs of vitamins less in my body than consume something that could be harmful. My friend used to drink raw milk and brag about it but once she drank from a sick cow ofcourse unknowingly and cought something to remember her for good and now she appreciates treated milk. However I do beleive that raw milk should be made availble to all as a choice to take home and boil it yoursef as to make a drink safer to drink this way if you choose to you can leave out the extra treated which can also be harmful in otherways. But general pasturised milk is the safest method to make an anilmaks milk suityable for human consumtion.

  75. #75 marya
    August 23, 2010

    How can one compare breastmilk to cows or goats? Just because you dont have to boil breastmilk doesnt mean you dont need to boil animals milk either? This is the most pathetic example ever… I mean why dont we eat the food left for the farm animal if they can eat that mash so can we and we might aswell and why not? Well because that is fit for animal consumption… this is why raw cow milk is suitable for a calf not human! Should we also intened to benefit from animal milk then slight alterations need to be made to make it safe for human.

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