Raw Facts on Raw Milk

Some Raw Facts About “Raw” Milk

and Other Health Issues

Is fresh (“raw”) milk risky? Yes, of course. There are risks in everything. But how risky is so-called raw milk? Here are some important comparisons.

  • Foodborne diseases cause an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.1

  • Auto accidents cause over 35,000 deaths per year.2

  • The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.3

  • All dairy products accounted for just 3.7% of food-borne illnesses between 1990 and 2003.

  • Meat products accounted for 28% of the total, and produce was not far behind at 20%.

  • Salads alone accounted for more than dairy, 5.6%.4

  • About 9 million Americans consumed raw milk in 2006/7.5

  • On average, 27 cases of illness from drinking raw milk are reported annually.6

  • Eighteen of those cases this year came from the bulk tank of a farm that pasteurized its milk.7

  • Confirmed deaths from raw milk, from any source, are fewer than one a year.8

Why don’t public health professionals make these comparisons? 1) They are professionals, by training and disposition inclined to focus on the question at hand and not the larger picture. 2) They are public health professionals, dedicated to eliminating any possible threat to health. 3) They work from a textbook history of milk production that mistakes late nineteenth century urban dairies and disease outbreaks for the rule throughout history.

Michael Foley


1Scallan E, Griffin PM, Angulo FJ, Tauxe RV, Hoekstra RM “Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States—Unspecified Agents,” Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 17, No. 1, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2011. Accessed 10/3/11. URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1701.P21101 .

2National Highway Traffic Safety Institute, Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia. URL:http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx.

3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annual Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008;57(45):1226–8

4 Caroline Smith DeWaal, Giselle Hicks, Kristina Barlow, Lucy Alderton, and Leora Vegosen, “Foods Associated with Foodborne Illness Outbreaks, 1990-2003,” Food Protection Trends, Vol. 26, No. 7, pp. 466-473, July 2006.

5Extrapolated from: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, Atlas of Exposures, 2006-2007, p. 13. Accessed: 10/3/2011. URL: http://www.cdc.gov/foodnet/surveys/FoodNetExposureAtlas0607_508.pdf.

6Stephen P. Oliver and others entitled “Food Safety Hazards Associated with Consumption of Raw milk, published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. Volume 6, Number 7, 2009.

7“Bacteria That Sickened 16 Matches Wisconsin Farm’s,” News8000.com. Accessed: 10/3/11. URL: http://www.news8000.com/news/Bacteria-that-sickened-16-matches-Wisconsin-farm-s/-/326/124494/-/131nq3f/-/index.html.

8 The CDC reports 2 deaths between 1998 and 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Raw Milk Questions and Answers.” Accessed: 10/3/11. URL: http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-questions-and-answers.html#risks

2 comments so far

  1. [...] Raw Facts on Raw Milk [...]

  2. [...] The FDA is on a campaign to ban raw milk sales. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has made it increasingly difficult for people to sell raw milk in the state and recently issued “cease and desist” orders to small, private dairy shares across the state, including one here in Mendocino County. And Mendocino County officials have been pursuing the issue as if there were some genuine threat to public health in this county. (See “Raw Facts on Raw Milk”.) [...]

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