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Risks of Drinking Raw Milk

  • Published: 2009-09-17 (Revised/Updated 2010-01-17) : Author: Health Canada
  • Synopsis: Drinking raw unpasteurized milk can contain bacteria that can make you seriously ill.

Main Document

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would like to remind Canadians not to drink raw (unpasteurized) milk because it could contain bacteria that can make you seriously ill.

Several different kinds of bacteria that could be found in raw milk, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria , have been linked to food-borne illness. These bacteria can lead to very serious health conditions ranging from fever, vomiting and diarrhea to life-threatening kidney failure, miscarriage and death. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.

Because of these health concerns, the Food and Drug Regulations require that all milk available for sale in Canada be pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the organisms that cause disease while keeping the nutritional properties of milk intact. Raw milk has not been treated to make it safe. It also is not fortified with vitamin D.

Pasteurized milk is an important food and contains many nutrients essential for good health, including protein, calcium and added vitamin D.

Unpasteurized milk has historically been linked to many serious diseases. However, the number of food-borne diseases from milk has dramatically decreased since pasteurization of milk was made mandatory by Health Canada in 1991.

The sale of raw milk is strictly prohibited under the Food and Drug Regulations . Raw milk cheese is allowed for sale and considered safe because the manufacturing process for cheese helps to eliminate many pathogens found in raw milk.

Although raw milk is not allowed to be sold in Canada, people have become ill after drinking raw milk when visiting farms. Some dairy farmers are also consuming milk from their own animals. While pasteurized milk is now the standard, there are some Canadians who continue to prefer raw milk because of perceived health benefits. However, any possible benefits are far outweighed by the serious risk of illness from drinking raw milk.

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