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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk products

This fact sheet also available in Somali, Spanish

What is raw milk?

  • Raw milk is milk from animals, typically cows and goats, which has not been pasteurized to kill germs from the animal that are present in the raw milk.
  • Some people believe that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk; however, the major nutrients in milk are not affected by pasteurization.
  • Vitamin D, which improves the body's ability to absorb calcium, is present in much higher quantities in pasteurized milk because vitamin D is added during processing.

Are there health risks from consuming raw milk and milk products?

  • Yes. Raw milk and raw milk products, such as cream, cheese and yogurt can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and cause serious infections, including:
    • Diarrhea and other complications from infections with Campylobacter, Salmonella, or E. coli bacteria
    • Severe kidney damage from infection with E. coli O157:H7 (called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS)
    • Miscarriage (stillbirth) and severe illness or death in newborns whose mothers are infected with Listeria bacteria when pregnant.
    • Bone, joint and other organ system infection from Brucella bacteria (brucellosis)
    • Pneumonia, meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain) or infection of the liver or heart from Coxiella burnetii (Q fever)
  • In some countries, raw milk can also be contaminated with bacteria that cause tuberculosis and diphtheria.
  • People with weakened immune systems, young children, the elderly, and pregnant women are at increased risk for severe infections from raw milk and milk products.

What is pasteurization?

Pasteurization is the process of heating raw milk to kill harmful bacteria.

How can I prevent illness from dairy products?

  • To avoid illness, consume only pasteurized milk. It is especially important that young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems consume only pasteurized milk and milk products.
  • Read the label! In Washington State it is legal to sell raw milk but raw milk products must be clearly labeled.

Where can I get more information on the health risks of raw milk?

Food Safety and Raw Milk, CDC

For questions about raw milk, call us: 206-296-4774.