Some weeks ago, I was astonished to read about the recent food-borne outbreaks in the US triggered by the ingestion of raw milk. Although, according to official data, these cases are sporadic and affect a tiny share of the American population (1%), I believe that one should never take for granted the fact that everyone, even in the 21st century and in advanced countries, is properly educated not only in terms of dietary habits but also food safety basics.
In fact, certain governments around the world still condone farmer-to-consumer sales of unprocessed, raw milk, a policy that should be restricted. In this regard, Canadian and Australian food policies are the strictest, prohibiting this practice all the way.
Consuming raw milk, and its derivatives (fresh cheese, yogurt, ice cream), which one has no way of ensuring or knowing are microbiologically safe, is among the food practices most likely to lead to serious and life-threatening illnesses (tuberculosis, gastroenteritis, fever and dysentery caused by pathogenic bacterial genera such as Mycobacterium, Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, Escherichia). Sources of this microbial contamination are commonly identified in areas where these bacteria are naturally present: in cow-breeding environments, on contaminated cows’ udders and in the milking parlor, regardless of the actual milking process’ being automated and adopting basic hygiene precautions.
If you think that the major benefit of drinking raw milk is that it is more nutritious and flavorful than the pasteurized alternative, you likely do not know the serious health risks that outweigh the epicurean part of such a practice. Researchers warn that people face a 150 times greater risk of contracting a food-borne illness from raw milk than from pasteurized milk.
Let’s see why the consumption of raw milk should be banned in favor of the heat-treated one:
- If the temptation to get a few sips of fresh milk directly from a farm is one of the must-tries in your life’s agenda, you sh ould at least boil the milk before drinking it, and for sufficient time to see little bubbles form at the edges of the pot. Furthermore, for proper storage, use microwave-sterilized glass bottles as they are the best in terms of hygiene.
- In any case, the standardized controls of time and temperature guaranteed during the industrial heat treatment of milk remains the best method to obtain consumption safety. The most current technology used by the food industry to sanitize milk is flash pasteurization (also known as HTST: high-temperature, short-time processing, or stassanization). Milk is treated at 75–85°C for 15–20 seconds, according to optimal time/temperature combinations, in order to ensure the destruction of pathogenic species of bacteria present in milk and, at the same time, to minimize the thermal damage of heat-sensitive nutrients, such as proteins and vitamins. Also, this technique allows for the product to be immediately brought to refrigeration temperatures (lower than 4°C), which could not be done after boiling.
- Finally, yet just as important, industrially pasteurized milk has the advantage of having more digestible fat and being processed to homogenization, a preliminary operation that reduces milk fat globules’ dimensions in order to disperse them uniformly throughout the rest of the milk.
When I was a child, admittedly thanks to my maternal grandfather’s initiative, I got to taste some fresh milk from a local farm, boiled before consumption. I remember the great flavor, but also the compact patina of cream surfacing the boiling milk in the saucepan and a slightly more yellowish color than pasteurized milk. It was a nice experience, but I continue to prefer the convenience and safety of the pasteurized milk.
In summary, put some common sense into having fresh milk. Having the modern pasteurized milk is a very safe way to enjoy the delicate and nourishing drink without regrets.