Raw cow's milk: Safe for toddlers?

Is raw cow's milk safe for an 18 month old baby?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

In the U.S. only one percent of the milk consumed is "raw," that is, unpasteurized. None the less, this small percentage of raw milk has gotten a lot of attention because of the seriousness of the illness it can and has caused. Raw milk is a great vehicle for infection from a variety of bacteria. Back in 1987 literally thousands of midwesterners became sick with salmonella after drinking improperly pasteurized milk, and that same year 62 Californians died from listerial bacteria in cheese made from unpasteurized milk. The most susceptible population to contaminated milk are infants and the elderly because the diarrhea and vomiting caused by the infection can lead to life threatening dehydration. Because of the potential risk of contamination, raw milk should not be given to infants, nor to anyone. Some states still legally sell raw milk and raw milk products, but this does not mean that they are safe. The FDA considers raw milk a public health problem and the Center for Disease Control has labeled raw milk "unsafe". Many states have banned the sale of raw milk.

Proponents of raw milk argue that it is more nutritious, claiming that the heat of pasteurization destroys some nutrients. In fact the loss of nutrients is minimal because of the use of a process called UHTST (ultra high temperature short time). What this means is that the milk is exposed to heat for only a very short time so as to minimize the deleterious effect on the nutrients, while it still kills the harmful bacteria. In doing a very quick risk-benefit analysis on the consumption of raw milk it is apparent that it is not worth the risk to allow infants to drink raw milk, or eat products made from raw milk.

I think you have asked a very good, and important question. With the quest to return to less processed foods, it is wise to be sure we do not drop those processes that have important health and safety implications.

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