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Raw Milk: Why Not to Drink It

Raw Milk: Why Not to Drink It

FDA bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk. All milk sold across state lines must be pasteurized and meet the standards of the U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. However, states may adopt their own laws on raw milk sales.

The reason for concern is harmful germs may be found in raw milk (and raw milk products, such cheese and yogurt) that can make people sick. Raw milk can become contaminated by the cow/animal itself, from bacteria in the environment, from milking, or cross-contamination by equipment and handling. Potential harmful germs include:

  • Brucella

  • Campylobacter

  • Cryptosporidium

  • E. coli

  • Listeria

  • Salmonella

There are some who believe that foods/beverages with little or no processing are better for their health. However, some types of processing are needed to protect our health. We make milk safe by pasteurizing it.

Pasteurization, developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, kills harmful germs. Chilled raw milk is heated by passing it between heated stainless-steel plates until it reaches 161º F. It’s held at that temperature for at least 15 seconds before it’s quickly cooled back to its original temperature of 39º F.

Heating milk was used to reduce milk-borne illness and death in infants in the late 1800s. At the turn of the 20th century, increased milk production and distribution led to outbreaks of milk-borne diseases, including typhoid fever, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and diarrheal diseases. These illnesses were virtually eliminated with the commercial implementation of pasteurization, in combination with improved management practices on dairy farms. In 1938, milk products were the source of 25% of all food and waterborne illnesses that were traced to sources, but now they account for far less than 1%.

On February 8, 2019, CDC posted a Food Safety Alert: Exposures to Drug-Resistant Brucellosis Linked to Raw Milk.

Officials are investigating potential exposures to Brucella strain RB51 in 19 states, connected to consuming raw milk from Miller’s Biodiversity Farm in Pennsylvania.

  • RB51 is a live, weakened strain used in a vaccine to protect cows against a more severe form of Brucella infection that can cause abortions in cows and severe illness in people

  • On rare occasions, cows vaccinated with RB51 vaccine can shed the bacteria in their milk. People who drink raw milk from cows that are shedding RB51 can develop brucellosis

  • Pasteurization kills Brucella

One case has been confirmed in New York, and an unknown number of people may have been exposed from drinking the milk from this farm. This type of Brucella is resistant to first-line medications and can be difficult to diagnose because of limited testing options.

Symptoms: Brucellosis

  • Begin five days to six months after exposure

  • Initial symptoms: fever, sweats, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain

  • Can lead to miscarriage in pregnant women

Complications if untreated: arthritis, heart problems, enlargement of the spleen or liver, nervous system problems, like meningitis.

Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT

  • Cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins

  • Reduce milk's nutritional value

  • Mean that it is safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for extended time. Keep milk and milk products refrigerated at 40°F or colder. Throw away any expired milk or milk products

If you’re thinking about drinking raw milk because you believe it is a good source of beneficial bacteria, consider choosing pasteurized fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir, which contain beneficial bacteria without the risk of illness linked to germs in raw milk.

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