What Is Raw Milk?

There are two types of cow’s milk that humans consume: raw milk and pasteurized (commercial) milk. Raw milk comes straight from the cow. It is untreated milk, free of any pasteurization or homogenization methods. When raw milk is pasteurized, it is typically heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds. Heating, or pasteurizing, removes bacteria and other disease-causing pathogens; however, it also removes beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacillus, and other key vitamins and nutrients.

Most of the dairy cows that produce raw milk are raised on a grain-free diet, allowed to graze freely in pastures, and do not receive antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Dairy cows in the commercial milk industry are often raised in a factory-farm environment. They tend to live in smaller spaces, are not always grass-fed, and are often given antibiotics as a preventative measure to fight against disease or infection.

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Interestingly enough, in the mid-1800s unsanitary conditions in factory-farm dairies led to mandatory pasteurization of milk. Mass outbreaks of typhoid and tuberculosis were traced back to contaminated milk at the dairies. Around this time, a French microbiologist named Louis Pasteur experimented with using heat as a means to kill microbes in wine. The “pasteurization” process was later refined for milk.

By the early 1900s, cities and towns were expanding. Population growth created a demand for clean milk that could be shipped without spoiling. In the 1940s Michigan became the first state to require milk pasteurization and many states followed. Small dairies soon turned into big businesses with big profits.

And yet many people still prefer natural, untreated milk rather than pasteurized milk. Why? It begins with the cows. Raw milk producers provide a natural diet and a stress-free environment for the cows. In return, the cows produce a more balanced, nutritious milk: healthy animal = healthy food.

Advocates of raw milk drink it for its fresh taste and its immune-boosting probiotics. Many who are lactose-intolerant have found that they can tolerate raw milk because it contains the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose and makes the milk easier to digest. And parents who provide raw milk for their children report a decrease in chronic conditions related to food allergies, such as asthma and ear infections.

The safety of raw milk is a topic of on-going debate. The argument against raw milk is that it is not pasteurized; therefore, it may contain pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses, and there have been reported cases of serious illness from contaminated raw milk. Informed consumers should be aware that they are consuming a raw agricultural product, yet cases of raw milk illness per year do not overshadow those from contaminated pasteurized milk. States that allow for raw milk to be sold legally require the dairies to be inspected and licensed. Their milk is tested for pathogens which makes it important to buy raw milk from a “certified” raw milk dairy.

In the United States, laws for raw milk distribution and consumer access vary from state to state. Depending on the state, raw milk may be legally sold in a store, directly from a raw milk dairy or at a farmers’ market, or through cow/herd-share agreements. Some states ban the sale of raw milk completely.

In Texas, raw milk cannot be sold legally in stores. It can, however, be purchased directly from a farm that produces certified raw milk.

Wiseman Health Take-Home Advice

We believe that people’s health would benefit from drinking less milk due to its high-sugar content and its often allergenic nature; however, if milk is consumed, it is ideal for the milk to be in its most raw state — as a true “whole food.” Though purchasing raw milk can sometimes be difficult, there are a number of helpful tips if you choose to purchase pasteurized milk or even raw dairy products such as raw-milk cheese from your local grocery store:

  • When buying pasteurized milk, look for low-temperature pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows free of artificial hormones, such as the low-temperature pasteurized milk sold by Mill-King. The production process for low-temperature pasteurized milk helps preserve the healthy bacteria, nutrients, and enzymes that should be present in dairy products, and when the milk is non-homogenized, this means the milk has the cream layer on top—the way nature designed it to be. The integrity of the milk is left alone.
  • Be careful of the “organic” label on organic milk products, though, as many organic milk products are still pasteurized at high temperatures.
  • For those who love cheese, look for “raw-milk” cheese at your local grocery store, such as Whole Foods or HEB. “Raw-milk” cheese can be made with low-temperature pasteurized cow’s milk that has not been heat treated with high or ultra-high temperatures. The milk is typically not heated above 102 degrees Fahrenheit. As well, the label will say that the cheese has been aged for a minimum of 60 days, which complies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.  This process of making “raw cheese” with low-temp pasteurized whole milk ensures the milk retains the healthy bacteria, nutrients, and flavor-rich enzymes that make this kind of cheese so natural and delicious.

These pointers will help ensure you have the best pasteurized milk (or “raw-milk” cheese) because not all pasteurized milk is created equal. We provide these guidelines as well in our video Raw Milk with Wiseman Family Practice, where Dr. Jeremy Wiseman visits a Raw Milk Dairy Farm in Schulenberg, Texas. For more information on raw milk and to locate sources close to you, visit realmilk.com.

Editor’s Note: This content was created by our Wiseman Health content and writing team, without the influence of artificial intelligence engines. Our goal is to be your trusted source for natural health and medical information. This article was originally published on June 13, 2014 and has since been updated.

Gumpert, D. (2009). The Raw Milk Revolution. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Mercola, J. (2011, November 16) Dr. Mercola Interviews Mark McAfee about Raw Milk. Articles.Mercola.com. Retrieved May 31, 2013, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/01/14/mark-mcafee-raw-milk-update.aspx.

Roumeliotou, E. (2013, May 23) In Defense of (Raw) Milk. Greenmedinfo.com. Retrieved May 31, 2013, from http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/defense-raw-milk?utm_source=www.GreenMedInfo.com&utm_campaign=e5db0441d2-Greenmedinfo&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_193c8492fb-e5db0441d2-86768686.

Raw Milk Laws State by State

2 Replies to “What Is Raw Milk?”

  1. I found this article informative and am very pro-raw foods, but I take exception with this statement:
    “yet cases of raw milk illness per year do not overshadow those from contaminated pasteurized milk.”
    This statement is technically accurate, but is misleading to the reader as it implies a safety that may or may not exist.
    For example, if there are 500 reported cases of illnesses caused by raw milk vs 50,000 cases for pasteurized milk that would imply raw is safer than pasteurized. But, if there were 50,000 gallons of raw milk consumed vs 50,000,000 for pasteurized milk then you get 1 illness per 100 gallons of raw milk vs 1 illness per 1,000 gallons of pasteurized milk which implies pasteurized milk is safer.

    That said, I feel that raw milk can easily be as safe as pasteurized milk if standards are in place and quality control is maintained.

  2. This is truly informative and helpful information, including the comments.

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