Sunday, March 8, 2009

Risky Eating: Unpasteurized Milk and Cheese

March 8, 2009

Raw milk seems to have won a new convert – Rachel Forrest, a former restaurant owner and present restaurant reviewer who lives and works in Portsmouth, NH.

In her March 4th "Wine Me Dine Me" column, which appears at, Ms. Forrest trumpeted her conversion to raw milk, writing that the raw milk she purchases from Brookford Farm is "... so creamy and rich I have to ration it out to make it last."

Ms. Forrest goes on to enumerate the claimed health benefits of raw milk, stating,

"Sure, pasteurization kills micro-organisms, but it also destroys proteins, enzymes, those good omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and lots of flavors that are naturally in milk. And get this, lactose intolerant crowd — there's no altering of the proteins so there's still lactase in the milk. If you're allergic to cow's milk or intolerant, you might be able to drink raw milk with no issues."

In making this statement, Ms. Forrest has swallowed the marketing prose of the producer, Brookford Farm, along with her raw milk. The Brookford Farm web site makes the following claims:

"Pasteurization kills microorganisms, denatures the proteins and destroys valuable enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids, flavorful compouns, probiotics and vitamins naturally occuring in milk. Consequently, the milk is not in its natural state and many health benefits have been destroyed. Because the proteins haven't been alterned, and lactase is still present, many people who are allergic to cow's milk or lactose intolerant are able to drink raw milk with little problem."

Ms. Forrest should have cross-checked her facts. According to Cornell University, the lactase enzyme is produced by the cells of the intestine. Lactase is not present in fresh milk at the time it leaves the teat - or a mother's breast. The presence of lactase in dairy products is as a result of bacteria that enter the milk, either through environmental contamination or by deliberate inoculate (such as for yogurt manufacture).

And milk allergies relate to the protein in milk, not the inability to digest lactose. Individuals may be allergic to milk protein whether or not the milk has been pasteurized.

As for the safety issue, Ms. Forrest acknowledged that there is a risk. "But," she writes, "there's risk in lots of things I eat."

We were reminded of these risks several times just in the last few weeks. 

  • Washington State is investigating several cases of Listeria monocytogenes infections in the hispanic community. Four of the victims were pregnant women; some of the four miscarried. The State suspects Mexican style cheese made with unpasteurized milk as the source of the outbreak. 
  • Pennsylvania reported an outbreak last month of six cases of Campylobacter illness among consumers of raw milk from Dean Farms (d.b.a. Pasture Maid Creamery, LLC). Dean Farms stopped selling its raw milk at the request of the State, but resumed sales after samples taken from the farm after the outbreak was identified tested negative for Campylobacter.
  • Vermont issued a warning last month to consumers of raw milk from a small farm in that state. According to the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, two dairy cows on a farm in Chittenden County tested positive for rabies. The farm did not sell raw milk to the public.

To gain further insight into the risks associated with raw dairy products – and into the validity of some of the benefits claimed by proponents of raw milk, please read the article by J.T. LeJeune that appeared in the January 2009 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.



  2. Thank you for posting the link to this excellent review article, which was published about a month after my Risky Eating article.


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