Pasteurization, since its adoption in the early 1900s, has been credited with dramatically reducing illness and death caused by contaminated milk. But today, some people are passing up pasteurized milk for what they claim is tastier and healthier "raw milk."
More than 300 people in the US got sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk in 2001, and nearly 200 became ill from these products in 2002, according to the CDC.
Drinking raw milk or eating raw milk products is "like playing Russian roulette with your health," says John Sheehan, director of the FDA’s Division of Dairy and Egg Safety. "We see a number of cases of foodborne illness every year related to the consumption of raw milk."
Raw milk advocates claim that unprocessed milk is healthier because pasteurization destroys nutrients and the enzymes necessary to absorb calcium. It also kills beneficial bacteria and is associated with allergies, arthritis, and other diseases, they say.
This is simply not the case, says Sheehan. Research has shown that there is no significant difference in the nutritional value of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk, he says. The caseins, the major family of milk proteins, are largely unaffected, and any modification in whey protein that might occur is barely perceptible.
"Milk is a good source of the vitamins thiamine, folate, B-12, and riboflavin," adds Sheehan, "and pasteurization results in losses of anywhere from zero to 10 percent for each of these, which most would consider only a marginal reduction."