Whether it’s from cows, goats, sheep, or another mammal, milk and milk products are an important source of calcium throughout a person’s life.
Most of the milk sold in the United States is pasteurized, a process during which the milk is heated to 161 degrees and kept there for 15 seconds.
Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria ‹ including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria ‹ that can contaminate milk before it gets to your table. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend pasteurization for all milk consumed by people in the United States.
But increasingly, consumers are seeing “raw” milk ‹ and cheeses, yogurts, and other products made from it ‹ in specialty shops, farmers’ markets, and stores. That’s partly because many Americans have adopted a “back to nature” philosophy about the foods they eat, embracing the idea that locally produced and minimally processed foods are more nutritious.
However, in the case of raw milk, FDA says that’s not true. Although the heating process slightly affects a few of the vitamins - thiamine, vitamin B6 and folic acid within the B-complex, and vitamin C, the changes are not significant. Meanwhile, there is a risk that milk could be contaminated by environmental factors such as soil or animal feces, animal diseases, or bacteria on an animal’s skin.
Consumers are also seeing more raw milk products because of the growth of the artisanal cheese industry. These cheeses are made by hand using what are considered to be traditional methods ‹ often on the farm where the milk is produced. Some of these cheese makers use pasteurized milk in their products, but others use raw milk that could contain disease-causing bacteria.
Some people believe cheese made from raw milk is better for you, but experts say there is no scientific evidence to support that belief.
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When in Doubt - Ask!
Federal law prohibits dairies from distributing raw milk across state lines if it has been packaged for consumers. This means raw milk can only be distributed between states if it’s going to plants to be pasteurized or used to make aged cheese before being sold to consumers. Experts have long believed that aging cheese for 60 days or longer killed disease-causing bacteria. FDA is now reviewing the scientific basis for that belief.
Each state makes its own laws about selling raw milk within the borders of the state. About half of states allow some form of raw milk to be sold to consumers. Consumers should be alert when they buy milk or milk products. To avoid raw milk, here are a few things you can do:
- Read the label on milk
- Ask store employees if specific brands are pasteurized
- At farm stands or farmers’ markets, ask if the milk and cream being sold have been pasteurized
If the market sells yogurt, ice cream, or cheese, ask if they were made with pasteurized milk.