Food safety and raw milk

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Pasteurization of milk was adopted decades ago as a basic public health measure to kill dangerous bacteria and largely eliminate the risk of getting sick from one of the most important staples of the American diet. In 1987, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation prohibiting the interstate sale of raw milk.  

In recent years, however, a small number of Americans (less than 1 percent) have rejected pasteurization in favor of raw (or unpasteurized) milk, citing a range of taste, nutritional and health benefits they believe are associated with raw milk consumption, as well as a general preference for unprocessed food. Today, 20 states explicitly prohibit intrastate raw milk sales in some form and 30 allow it. 

While the perceived nutritional and health benefits of raw milk consumption have not been scientifically substantiated, the health risks are clear. Since 1987, there have been 143 reported outbreaks of illness – some involving miscarriages, still births, kidney failure and deaths – associated with consumption of raw milk and raw milk products that were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria such as Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli. Because E. coli can spread from one child to another, the risk is not just to the one that drank the milk.

As a science-based, public health regulatory agency, FDA strongly supports the application of effective measures, such as pasteurization, to protect the safety of the food supply and maintain public confidence in such important, healthy staples of the diet as milk.  

However, in light of concerns that have been raised about potential FDA actions, we want to remind the public that FDA does not regulate the intrastate sale or distribution of raw milk. Whether to permit the sale and distribution of raw milk within a state is for the state to decide.  

With respect to the interstate sale and distribution of raw milk, the FDA has never taken, nor does it intend to take, enforcement action against an individual who purchased and transported raw milk across state lines solely for his or her own personal consumption.

We urge consumers who purchase raw milk to understand the health risks involved. While raw milk puts all consumers at risk, the elderly, immune-compromised people, children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the hazards of raw milk consumption. FDA’s consumer education will continue to focus on helping consumers understand the risk to these populations.  

The FDA’s position on raw milk is in concert with the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatricians.

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