Each year, people become ill from drinking raw milk and eating foods made from raw dairy products, according to the National Center for Infectious Diseases.
Unlike most of the milk, cheese, and dairy products sold in the United States, raw milk and raw dairy products have not been heat treated or pasteurized to kill germs. Although many states outlaw the sale of these items, many people including dairy producers, farm workers and their families, and some ethnic groups continue to drink raw milk and eat foods made from raw dairy products. Several types of raw cheeses such as feta, brie, queso fresco, sheep’s and goat’s milk cheese have been illegally sold in the United States.
Raw milk and raw dairy products may carry many types of disease-causing germs such as Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Yersinia, and Brucella. When raw milk or raw milk products become contaminated, people who eat the contaminated foods can get sick. A few examples of outbreaks that have been reported since 2000:
- 2001: Outbreak of Campylobacter jejuni infections from drinking "raw" or unpasteurized milk.
- 2003: Outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections from eating unpasteurized queso fresco (a Mexican-style soft cheese)
- 2003: Outbreak of Salmonella infections from eating unpasteurized queso fresco.
- 2004: Outbreak of E. coli.O157 infections from eating unpasteurized queso fresco
When shopping for milk or cheese, the NCID warns consumers to play it safe. Carefully read food labels to make sure a product is pasteurized. Purchase only products that are pasteurized or made from pasteurized milk.
In addition, the NCID recommends these people should always avoid raw milk or raw dairy products:
- Pregnant women or women considering pregnancy
- Children under 5 years of age
- The elderly
- Persons infected with HIV
- Persons with cancer
- Anyone who is immunocompromised (such as persons with organ transplants)