Raw milk is on the rise, and is an incredibly complex topic with a boatload of misinformation. It’s something I have been completely fascinated by as I embark on my own health journey. I am really excited to do a deep dive on raw dairy, especially as it becomes more widely discussed in today’s society.
In this piece, I will go into the following: what raw dairy really is, pasteurization and its origin, the nutritional values of raw and pasteurized milk, how to source it, and the legality by state.
The goal of this piece is to not tell you what to do, but rather present critical information so that you can make informed decisions for yourself and your family.
What is Raw Dairy?
Raw dairy is milk or milk products that have not undergone pasteurization. It is simply real milk in its most natural form, straight from the mammal.
For the sake of clarification purposes throughout this post, we will use the terms ‘raw’ milk and ‘raw’ dairy to differentiate milk in its most natural form versus pasteurized milk. The truth is, we didn’t call milk ‘raw’ until pasteurization became common- I personally petition to call it real milk, or just ‘milk.’ We don’t call sushi, ‘raw fish rolls.’
There are two types of raw dairy:
- 1. Milk responsibly sourced and intended to be consumed as ‘raw’
- Produced by farmers raising healthy cows on green pasture, following appropriate sanitation protocol during the milking or bottling process.
- This raw milk can either be sold directly to the public (depending on legality) or is sold privately AKA RAW DAIRY DEALS.
- 2. Milk intended for pasteurization
- Produced by dairy farmers who send the milk to a processing plant to be pasteurized and homogenized prior consumption. It is often mixed with milk from other dairies to be processed in large batches and sold as different products: milk, cream, butter, etc.
For this piece, it’s important that we define the following key terms which are crucial to understanding the history of it all.
Before we get into the defining pasteurization, we must begin with Germ Theory vs. Terrain Theory.
Louis Pasteur was a French microbiologist in the mid-1800s and is the author of Germ Theory: the idea that harmful microbes cause disease. Much of our modern medical system and food production is based on this theory. Pasteur’s research on pathogens and sterilization led to the discovery that heat “deactivates” microorganisms.
The Terrain Theory is the competing theory, initiated by Claude Bernard, and later built upon by Antoine Béchamp. Terrain theory states that an unbalanced environment (or terrain) is the cause of disease, not simply external microbes. His theory also explains why some people become sick when “exposed” to a pathogen while others do not.
What is Pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a widely used process which applies heat to destroy pathogens in foods, named after Louis Pasteur. There is a range of methods which include different tiers of temperatures and lengths of time to achieve pasteurization:
- 1. Low-Temp Pasteurization (vat pasteurization): milk is heated to 145° F (63° C) for at least 30 minutes. This is a minimally processed milk option for those without access to raw milk.
- 2. High-Temperature Short-Time Pasteurization (HTST): this is the most common type of pasteurization in the United States. Milk is heated to at least 161° F (72 °C) for no less than 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling.
- 3. Ultra-High Temp Pasteurization (UHT): milk is heated to 280-302° F (138–150 °C) for one or two seconds. Dairy products that have undergone UHT pasteurization and are immediately packaged in sterile containers – technically they do not even require refrigeration, but oftentime are refrigerated in stores for show.
What is Homogenization?
Homogenization is the process of forcing milk through tiny holes at high pressure to emulsify the fat particles and disperse them throughout the milk so that the cream does not separate and rise to the top.
Unfortunately, because there are so few organic dairies with 100% grass fed cows, the majority of organic milk and cream sold in grocery stores has been ultra pasteurized and homogenized. Organic cheese, however, is not made from ultra pasteurized milk because the process denatures the proteins in the milk to such an intense degree. This makes me think about how our bodies handle these denatured proteins and other nutrients from this process.
Why did pasteurization become popular?
To prevent spoilage, Louis Pasteur initially implemented his heat treatment (pasteurization) of wine which effectively deactivated enzymes, eliminating their natural decomposition function, allowing wine to travel further. Pasteur later applied this process to milk.
His research on microorganisms was revealed during a unique time in history: the Industrial Revolution. This time period caused many to leave the countryside and into the city for factory jobs. Many families who moved into these cities brought their family dairy cow(s). Due to these environmental changes, the cows were left to feed on distillery swill (residual mash from nearby distilleries), when they should have been grazing in the pasture.
Furthermore, swill milk dairies grew into existence due to the demand in the cities from this time period. Swill milk dairies were noted for their filthy conditions and disgusting stench both caused by the close confinement of hundreds, or even thousands, of cows. Once the cows were tied, they would stay for the rest of their lives, often standing in their own manure, covered with flies and suffering from a range of virulent diseases and sores. These cows were fed boiling distillery waste, often leaving them with rotting teeth and other maladies. Instead of raising the standards and fixing the quality of the milk, they started pasteurizing it. This allowed them to cut corners while protecting people from the illnesses this specific bad milk naturally caused.
At this time, with Louis Pasteur’s heat treatment, milk from sick cows was no longer making people sick. It essentially enabled low-quality milk to be consumed without issue. He eliminated one symptom of the problem (sick cows causing sickness in humans), but did not address the root cause: the cows inflicted with Bovine Tuberculosis and Brucellosis.
Oftentimes in conversation, you will hear, “pasteurization has saved so many lives” or “people used to die drinking milk,” assuming that the reason raw milk posed a threat during the Industrial Revolution is still the same reason we should be afraid of raw milk today. It’s important to note that raw dairy was not making everyone sick, solely those who consumed milk from diseased cows. The families who remained in the countryside continued to have zero issues throughout the Industrial Revolution up until today. Today, we test cows for these diseases, eliminating the chance of passing illness through the cow’s milk.
The reason the CDC and FDA warn against the consumption of raw dairy today is due to the fear of foodborne illness such as listeria, salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, and campylobacter, etc. These pathogens can enter the milk during the milking and/or bottling process if improper sanitation is used. On the contrary, when proper sanitation takes place, milk from healthy and grass fed cows does not pose any risk of illness. Healthy animals milked in clean environments produce a nutrient dense, safe superfood for all ages and are not inherently dangerous like many assume.
While researching this topic, I came to realize that pasteurization laws are in place to protect consumers from bad dairy producers, not to force dairies to make high quality milk. Milk was consumed in its most natural form (raw) for 10,000+ years up until the 20th century.
It’s important to also note that the CDC’s database for foodborne illness reports zero investigations associated with raw dairy in the last 5 years. Additionally, the CDC makes no recommendation to refrain from consuming raw salad greens even though in 2014–2018, a total of 51 foodborne disease outbreaks linked to leafy greens (mainly lettuce) were reported to CDC. Five of the 51 were multistate outbreaks that led the CDC to warn the public. As I write this in November 2022, there is currently a Listeria outbreak on deli meat and cheese in various states within the US.
What are the potential negatives associated with pasteurization?
According to research outlined by the Raw Milk Institute, pasteurization has been shown to:
- 1. Reduce the bioavailability of calcium and phosphorus
- 2. Reduce the presence of copper and iron
- 3. Reduce Vitamins A, B Complex, C, and E
- 4. Destroy beta-lactoglobulin, thereby decreasing intestinal absorption of Vitamins A and D (this is why many milks are ‘fortified’ with synthetic vitamins)
- 5. Destroy probiotics including lactobacillus and pediococcus
- Inactivate beneficial enzymes, including lactase, alkaline phosphatase, and lactoperoxidase (sourced at the bottom)
Mark McAfee, the founder of the Raw Milk Institute and Organic Pastures Dairy, poured five types of milk into five sterilized mason jars, without fully tightening the lids, and let them sit out at room temperature for two weeks. Here’s what he found:
- 1. Raw, Organic Whole Milk: NO mold
- 2. Pasteurized, Organic, Pasture-Raised, Whole Milk: Medium mold levels
- 3. Pasteurized, Conventional Whole Milk: Medium mold levels
- 4. Pasteurized, Conventional 2% Milk: HIGH mold levels
- 5. ULTRA Pasteurized 2% Milk: EXTREMELY HIGH mold levels
McAfee’s own raw, organic, whole milk, which is sold at health-food stores all over California, was not only FREE of mold, but also it was an edible, healthy product, similar to sour cream or yogurt and whey and completely usable after the two week experiment.
Why does the dairy industry continue to pasteurize milk?
- 1. With a continuous increase in population and the rise of industrial practices, many food producers have utilized pasteurization for convenience and consistency. When grocery shopping, you will notice that even non-dairy alternatives and juice are pasteurized.
- 2. Additionally, although modern-day cows do not suffer from the same acute illnesses of the past, many large dairy operations push production to its max. Large dairy operations may even employ the use of antibiotics, grain supplementation (often from GMO corn and soy), and less-than-ideal animal welfare practices.
The more I have researched and studied this topic, the more I understand that milk is a whole food that works synergistically within itself (vitamins, cultures, enzymes, minerals, etc) and the benefits are unbelievable.
Dr. Paul Saladino (Carnivore MD) says, “Raw milk is a superfood because it is loaded with friendly bacteria, living enzymes, immunoglobulins, peptides, bioavailable vitamins, and minerals. This means it’s incredibly nutritious and comes with natural healing properties, including strengthening the immune system and benefiting allergic conditions.”
What are the benefits of milk in its most natural form?
- 1. Contains compounds that support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut
- 2. Contains bioavailable vitamins and minerals (A, D, E, and K2; vitamin C; all the B vitamins, especially vitamins B2, B6, and B12, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc as well as essential trace minerals, according to realmilk.com)
- 3. Contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium
- 4. Contains enzymes that are activated in the digestive system
- 5. Facilitates the production of lactase enzyme which breaks down lactose
- 6. A balanced macronutrient food containing fats, protein, and carbs
- Information courtesy of Homegrown Education
The chances are, you’re probably not lactose intolerant, you’re probably pasteurization intolerant. Here’s why:
Additionally, when people react negatively to milk, very often, the offending component is a protein called casein. There are two varieties of milk: A1 and A2 and refers to the type of casein protein found in the milk. A1 casein is found in the milk of most cows in the US and becomes a beta-casomorphin7 (a molecule that has been loosely linked to the development of certain health issues). A2 occurs in the milk of a small percentage of US cows specifically bred for this protein, as well as bison, goats and sheep – it is easier to digest for those who have intolerance.
Mark McAfee states that if you have not drank milk in quite some time, he recommends drinking 3-4 oz of raw milk every 3-4 hours or via fermented form such as kefir for 15 days. You can also read my dairy reintroduction guide here.
In my humble opinion, it is the best tasting greatness one can achieve when it comes to milk, because it’s made by God and not by man.
What does raw milk taste like and how long does it last?
In my humble opinion, it is the best tasting greatness one can achieve when it comes to milk, because it’s made by God and not by man (non-dairy milk = man made). For many (including me), it tastes much better than pasteurized dairy. Unlike pasteurized dairy, it doesn’t spoil because the enzymes in the milk have not been deactivated, like the example from McAfee’s experiment previously mentioned.
Where can I find raw dairy?
The FDA’s ban on the sale of raw milk did not take place until 1987, about 35 years ago, and legality around sourcing raw dairy varies from state to state, and country to country. The sale and distribution of raw dairy is highly regulated in the US, however, owning a lactating animal is not against the law.
There are two ways to obtain raw dairy in the United States:
- 1. Through a herdshare or private membership association or raw dairy dealer
- 2. In a state where retail sales are legal.
Even in states where retail sales are legal, there are differences in how raw milk is allowed to be sold. In California, raw milk can be purchased right off the grocery store shelves. In Texas, raw milk may be purchased only on the farm. In Florida, raw milk for human consumption is not legal, and neither are “cow shares,” but retail of raw milk for pet consumption is legal. The pet food label is merely a workaround that gives raw milk access to more people. With all this, it is still very important to know where you are sourcing it from. I have found many of my sources throughout the country via realmilk.com, as well as getrawmilk.com it is a great place to begin your search if you are in an area where it is not legal for retail sale.
To conclude, I hope this deep dive on raw milk, or milk in its most natural form, was both informative and insightful. If you decide to give raw milk a try, let me know – I would love to hear your thoughts!
*Not medical advice, it is advisable to consult a medical professional prior
The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle over Food Rights by David Gumpert
The untold story of Raw Milk by Ron Schmid
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