In California, although the sale of raw milk and raw dairy products is legal,
all such products are required to include this warning on their labels:
"WARNING: Raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk dairy products may contain
disease-causing microorganisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these
organisms include newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those
taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic
illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity."
It is important to have the correct facts on consuming raw milk products so
that you can make the best decision for you and your family.
Raw milk and raw dairy products are milk and dairy products (e.g., queso
fresco, cheese, cream, etc.) made from milk that have not been pasteurized (heat
treated) to kill off bacteria. Raw milk and raw dairy products are not as safe
as pasteurized milk and dairy products made from pasteurized milk.
Raw milk and raw dairy products are inherently unsafe to consumers because
they may contain one or more types of bacteria that can cause mild to severe
illnesses. These bacteria include Brucella, Campylobacter,
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, Salmonella species, and Yersinia.
Infection with one of these bacteria may occur from drinking raw milk or
eating dairy products made from raw milk. The symptoms of these infections
include diarrhea, stomach cramps, or fever. Rare, yet severe illness may also
occur, including a neurological disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome with
Campylobacter jejuni infection, acute renal failure in children or the
elderly with E. coli O157:H7 infection, and miscarriage or fetal death in
pregnant women with Listeria monocytogenes infection.
The risk of severe disease, hospitalization, or death from
consuming raw milk or raw dairy products is greater for children, pregnant women
and their unborn babies, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune
Outbreaks of infections due to consumption of raw milk or raw dairy
products have been documented nationwide. From 1998 to 2008, the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented 85 outbreaks of human
infections that resulted from consumption of raw milk or cheese made from raw
milk. A total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and 2 deaths
were reported from these outbreaks. The actual number of illnesses associated
with raw milk or raw milk products is likely greater because not all cases of
foodborne illness are recognized or reported.
California outbreaks due to raw milk or raw dairy products included:
- Cases of Salmonella Dublin infections in the 1970s into early 1980s
that were associated with raw milk consumption. One published investigation in
1979 documented 113 patients with 89 hospitalizations and 22 deaths. Several
patients had a serious underlying disease such as leukemia or lymphoma that
might have predisposed them to a more severe outcome.
- Two outbreaks of Campylobacter infection, one in 1984 where several
children and adults were ill after drinking raw milk while on a tour of a dairy,
and another in 1985 where several people became infected after drinking raw milk
on a tour of a bottling plant.
- Two outbreaks of multidrug-resistant Salmonella infection
associated with eating unpasteurized Mexican-style cheese in 1997 resulting in
over 10 culture-confirmed cases.
- An outbreak of E. coli O157 infection in September 2006 that
affected six children, three of whom were hospitalized including two with kidney
- A cluster of diarrheal illness and Campylobacter infections in
May-June 2008 that affected some members of a cow-share program who consumed raw
milk; one of those affected developed a form of Guillain-Barré syndrome that
required prolonged hospitalization.
The California Department of Public Health recommends that:
- persons at higher risk for severe foodborne disease (children,
pregnant women, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems) and those
who wish to reduce their risk of foodborne infections should not drink raw milk
nor eat raw dairy products.
- persons who experience illness after consuming raw milk or a raw
dairy product should see their doctor.
Several federal agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have officially
recognized the health risks of consuming raw milk and raw dairy products.
For more information about raw milk and raw dairy products: