Milk - pasteurised vs raw

Milk provides a unique source of essential nutrients that provide a wide range of benefits. For all age groups, milk has an important role to play in the community's diet. Milk has become a safe reliable food source that can be widely distributed throughout the community thanks to food safety controls achieved by pasteurisation.

Pasteurised milk and raw milk

Pasteurised milk is milk that has gone through a process called pasteurisation. This process usually involves heating milk to a specific temperature for a certain period of time to kill any harmful organisms that can be present in milk. 

Raw milk, also known as unpasteurised milk, is milk that has not been pasteurised to kill harmful bacteria.

Risks of raw milk

Raw milk can be a source of harmful organisms such as E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria and Cryptosporidium.

E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium infection can cause mild to severe gastroenteritis. Sometimes extremely severe complications such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) occur. HUS can result in kidney (renal) failure and death in previously healthy people.

Listeria infection is particularly serious in pregnant women and can result in miscarriage or stillbirth of babies.

Due to its inherent risks, raw cow's milk is not permitted for sale under the Food Act 2001.

Who is at risk?

Everyone is vulnerable to illness caused by the harmful organisms that may be in raw milk. However, the risks are even greater for young children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with underlying health problems and those who are immunosuppressed.

This is because:

  • immune systems are weaker
  • the stomach may have less acid to protect against bacteria
  • the impact of symptoms can be more severe
  • recovery takes longer.

How raw milk becomes contaminated

Raw milk becomes contaminated either directly, from infection of the udder, or indirectly, from contact with cow faeces or other contaminants introduced during milking.

No matter how good milking hygiene practices are, it is impossible to ensure that raw milk is free from harmful bacteria.

Have people fallen ill from raw milk?

Yes, food poisoning outbreaks linked to the consumption of raw milk commonly occur around the world. In North America, between 2000 and 2012, there have been 50 outbreaks linked to raw milk or milk products. These outbreaks resulted in 826 illnesses (including four infected newborns) which lead to 48 hospitalisations and seven deaths (miscarriages/stillbirths). Of those 826 illnesses, 19 people developed HUS1

1 Shyng, S & McIntyre, L, 2014, Summary of Food Borne Illnesses & Outbreaks in Canada and USA Associated with the Consumption of Raw Milk and Raw Milk Dairy Products (2000-2012)British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), viewed 02 September 2019