Is Raw Milk Safe to Drink?

Raw milk comes straight from the cow without being pasteurized. But how could drinking unpasteurized milk be safe? We explain.

Raw milk is, quite simply, milk that comes straight from the cow without being pasteurized. But, they pasteurize milk for a reason, right? So, how could drinking unpasteurized milk be safe?

Pasteurization involves heating foods, then rapidly cooling them again to kill off any microorganisms living in the food. The process, invented by biologist Louis Pasteur in 1864, can prevent people from contracting many kinds of food-borne illnesses like salmonella or E. coli. But what did people do before pasteurization? Did they just get sick? In many cases, yes, they did. That’s why pasteurization was invented in the first place. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. But that’s not quite the whole story.

Haven’t People Been Drinking Raw Milk Forever?

Actually, people had been drinking raw milk, straight from their own cows, sheep, and goats, for millennia without getting sick. Milk has long been one of the most nutritionally complete foods in the human diet and has been an important part of nearly every culture’s cuisine. If it had always made people sick, we would have stopped drinking it long ago. So, what happened? Why did raw milk, something we’d been drinking for thousands of years, suddenly start making people sick?

The Industrial Revolution is what happened. People began moving from the country to large cities, and the world’s population began to explode. People were no longer getting milk from the cow in their own, or their neighbors’, backyards. They were buying it from stores or having it delivered by dairies. Farms, once the center of a community’s food supply, became businesses. And, like most businesses, they grew larger and larger, and more and more interested in making a profit, even, at times, to the detriment of the quality of their product.

Soon, dairy cows, which had always lived in open fields and grazed on fresh grass, were herded into cramped, unsanitary pens and fed grains — sometimes even waste grains from alcohol distilleries — that weren’t a part of their natural diet. The result was increasingly unhealthy cows that produced sometimes infected milk. To make this milk safe for human consumption, it had to be pasteurized.

Can Milk Go Back To Being Safe?

In recent years, though, there has been a growing number of people who believe that, by returning cows to open fields, feeding them grass, and milking them under sanitary conditions, you can get milk that is safe enough to be consumed without being pasteurized. But why bother? If pasteurization kills off bacteria, why not just treat all milk to be on the safe side?

Pasteurization Problems

Proponents of raw milk say the fact that pasteurization kills off bacteria is actually a problem. In addition to killing potentially harmful bacteria, pasteurization also kills the many beneficial microorganisms, including probiotics, naturally found in milk. Raw milk drinkers say these “good bacteria” can aid in digestion and overall health. These bacteria can help our bodies to more efficiently break down the foods we eat, and get the most nutrients from them. Plus, milk is high in lactic acid, a natural acid that is able to keep “bad bacteria” in check, as long as the milk comes from a healthy cow.

Because its beneficial bacteria are intact, raw milk is often touted as a potential alternative for people who are lactose-intolerant. The bodies of lactose-intolerant people don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk. But raw milk includes a helpful bacteria called Lactobacilli that breaks down the lactose for you.

In addition to killing off bacteria, pasteurization also changes the structure of the milk, breaking down the proteins that can be used by our bodies as antibodies to fight off illness and infection. Raw milk fans say these antibodies fight off viruses, increase our resistance to environmental toxins, and may even help to reduce the severity of some chronic conditions, like asthma.

Like any other food sold commercially, raw milk is periodically tested for harmful bacteria and other impurities and must be certified safe. Not just any dairy can sell its milk raw. The production must meet certain conditions and follow a strict set of safety standards.

If you’re interested in trying raw milk, you may be able to find it your local a natural foods store. Or check out this link to find out if there is a certified raw dairy near you.

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Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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BTW, Jaime great article! Great articles generate great comments that make you want to read them all! lol

Yusuf kurdi

Thank you so much for this ❤ ? ???????????????


Very balanced article. After the read, I did not know if the question was answered, or if the author had a preference. Sounds like he suggests we be careful and know the farmer. Something I agree on completely. It is legal in IL for sales on the farm. I have cattle for meat sales that are 100% grass fed. I would have to do a lot of work to milk.. Might just for our personal consumption.

Susan Higgins

Glad you found it helpful, Jon. Thanks for taking the time to comment!


I never use straws. It’s just unnecessary and not good for the environment.

Steve Quarders

This guy is a moron. Pushing the grass fed narrative. Never milked a cow in his life. The natural parasites cows get are in the grass. A properly fed cow in a clean environment is a good start to good milk. I grew up on fresh milk as did my as did my wife and our parents. Granny is currently 89, the youngest at death was 75. So I’d say as long as the milk is kept clean and handled correctly I see no reason to be afraid to use it. Seems damn funny to me that all these earth muffins growing veggies and selling them all over the place don’t have the guidelines and inspections at their farms the dairy industry has, Why?? Who knows what they are using for fertilizer and mulch.


milk straight from cow is one of the healthiest food on the planet. all other milk/milkthings from shops are rubbish.


We just got fresh milk from a cow,do we have to boil it or can we just drink it. We want to be safe cause we have kids…is it necessary to boil it
Thank you.


No, it is not necessary to boil it take the fresh milk after milking it straight from the cow and get you a white cloth a white pillow slip washed in water and bleach with no softener is best my family has used a pillow case for generations,just split it open and put it over a clean glass container and strain it thru the cloth into the container and place into the fridge. After it sets overnight it will form a thick layer of cream on top just skim it off top and drink the fresh milk and if you’d like fresh unsalted butter skim the cream from the top of several milkings and put it into a container and when you get enough like a 1/2 a gallon or so put it into a gallon glass jar and put the top on it and shake it while watching TV for about an hour and watch the butter appear it will be in clots in the jar but you gather it and pat it into a container and chill and enjoy you can add salt to taste if you’d like when patting the butter and the milk off of the butter will be. You guessed it butter milk.

Robert McIntosh

The most important thing when consuming raw milk is to keep it very cold to prevent further bacterial growth and souring of the milk. That said, raw milk is better tasting than any milk you will ever get from the grocery store that has been pasteurized. The raw milk dairy where we get our milk cools it right away and when we get it, it is only 2-3 hours from when the cow was milked. I have bad allergies to store bought milk, but no problems with raw milk. Pasteurized milk still has all the same bacteria, and being that they are dead, they release their toxins which many scientists believe are responsible for the allergies cause by the pasteurization. Yeah for raw milk!


How did farmers keep their milk cold before Refrigeration was invented? Did you know the US is the only country that washes and ships and sells eggs refrigerated? We don’t wash our chickens eggs and just leave them in a basket in the pantry until needed (for up to 2 months sometimes). They stay fresher longer than refrigerated eggs.

Patricia S

I was just looking into buying a jersey. I need to read up on it a lot more bc I have no idea on what I’m doing. I would love to make my own butter and cheese. And have never tasted “REAL MILK” the cow is 2000.00 so before I make an investment like that I would love to know more about it and from what I have read on this page everyone seems to love be the fresh stuff better. By husband goes out every year and shoots a deer and an elk so our freezer stays full of “fresh”meat. But I buy a 1/4 of a cow bc I’m don’t like the taste of elk or deer. But I can honestly say that the fresh butchered cow tastes so much better than store bought crap.

Jerica Hudson

2,000! That’s quite a bit of money for a cow. If I were you I would find a different farmer, they’re 1,200 for a mature cow but if you raise them young you can get it for 500. Maybe it’s the different locations.


Do more homework on buying a jersey cow. $2000 is way too much!! $800-$1200 is even high in some places. Even traveling a few miles to get it might save you tons


When I was a little girl I used to drink “raw” caw milk we boiled it before drinking it. And now whenever I go back to South America I still do I miss it here in the U.S. I wish it was easier to get.


boiling the milk destroys the nutrients, proteins and vitamins and defeats the purpose of buying raw milk

Tina Acton

I’ve had cows for many years. Have milked some of my Holsteins, but only for orphan or young rope calves I’ve bought. I have a Jersey heifer about ready to breed. So excited. I mess with her bag all the time so she won’t mind as much when I milk her. I’m ready for fresh milk and butter!! Any tips appreciated. I’m a little confused from all I’ve read on here about how long raw milk is good.


I drank raw milk straight from the cow over 20 years old, I’ve never been sick, and milk straight from the cow warm with fresh bread is my dream, I’m looking for someone from whom I could buy fresh milk


When I lived in India, every morning we took our tin pail to the cow person down the road to get our days supply for our chai. We were told to bring the milk to a boil before using it. All was good. Seems simple.

Leonard foderaro

Where in central New Jersey can I buy fresh raw cows milk?


Drinking a tall glass of ice cold raw milk as I read this and OMG it is sooooooo good. I am part of a herd share and plan to start making my own butter and cream cheese this week. If you have never had REAL cream cheese or REAL butter straight from REAL milk you have NO idea what you are missing. Its flat out disgusting what they put in our food to make it last longer. For instance, mayonnaise is made from eggs and oil. Yet the store bought last for what….a year? How much garbage is put in mayo to make it last that long? Scary. And these staples are sooooo easy to make at home and taste sooooo much better and are soooo much better for you. We have a few acres so we live by the creed…if you can’t pluck it, pick it, crack it or milk it at our farm then we don’t consume it. Your missing so much by listening to the government. At least do your family and self a favor and try it.

jamie palmer

I also grew up on raw milk and dont remember any body in my family ever being sick. i would love to be able to get raw milk again. but in alabama you cant get raw milk unless you have your own cow.i know God made milk to keep our system clean and us healthy so we should be able to change this you think

Joe Hiffler

I wouldn’t consider it a “Conspiracy”, but I do agree it was for profits. You have to remember, back then, superstition spread like wildfires.

Islam Hussen pakhtoon

Its was safe for the past thousand generations so who do the west thing they are coming in and telling us nooo!!!!! you must do this and that before it safe to drink. Its all a conspiracy to make more money. The big companies are trying too fool us to make more company. I am use to bottle milk but as far as I see it nothing wrong with drinking raw milk.


GailMarie, all you have to do is put a silver dollar (or a pure silver coin) in the container with the milk; it’s what they (farming families) did to keep the milk potable.

cindy b

My uncle Mark was a dairy farmer in kansas. His operation was rather large and had a milking barn with several levels. The smell was indescribible. Horrible doesn’t even touch it. He fed his cows silage and it wasn’t the most sanitary place you ever saw. I wouldn’t drink his milk raw (that would be suicidal!). For raw milk I recommend checking out your local smaller farms if possible. Visit them to see how they care for their bovine buddies! It helps to support the local economy and small farmers. They need it!


I want to start milking my cow after her baby is done 🙂 how long is the milk good some say only 24 hours? and how do I make butter, how long will that last. can you freeze it?? any help would be appreciated.


I only red the beginning and saw how ignorant the author is, people didn’t get sick back then from drinking raw milk people get sick today from drinking pasteurized milk. Pasteurizing makes milk bad for you you either you consume raw dairy products or non at all, preferably organic grass fed.

Jaime McLeod

Luca – If you had read the entire article, you would have seen that it said the same thing as your comment.


You should finish the article. He was talking about the reason people got sick on raw milk is because they moved to cities and population grew so dairy farms grew larger and fed the cows silage to keep costs down and they didn’t put them in pastures but in feed lots eating silage. Go back and read for information without a critical spirit.


sorry but no. People were getting sick from raw milk from sick cows.


My family owns a dairy, milking an average of 150 cows. We sell to a co-op. Our cows are fed a Silage/Haylage ration. They also graze (when we have rain to produce grass). Our milk is tested daily & dumped if anything “bad” is found in it. Cows can’t just “eat hay aka graze all the time. As with your lawn, grass is seasonal & we can’t/won’t starve our cows in seasons & conditions where grass isn’t available. We have raised our babies (now toddlers) on raw milk with no issues at all. It is about an hour old when it enters our fridge, it seperates in about 30minutes. We are currently unable to sell milk though we’re working on it. I just wanted to state some facts from a person that owns a dairy & fully know what goes on. BTW, I think these herd share programs are a great healthy opportunity as well as a good lesson of where your food comes from. I hope all of you visit your dairy so you can fully appreciate that glass of AHH-mazing milk.

Tina Acton

Well I’ve milked cows for rope calves to drink, but I know have a Jersey with lots of milk. Your comment was my favorite. So I’ll ask you. Do I skim cream off before drinking? And have u made butter with a jar? If so how??? I just mked her I put jar of milk in front., I had read to leave it for 12 hours and then skim cream off milk and let cream set out for 12 hours , then shake it in a jar till its butter. Ease email me what u think. Thanks Tina Acton in Texas


Yes cows can eat grass all the time. They were created to eat grass. Here in North Georgia we make sure we have good grazing pastures to support our cows before buying them and we rot ate fields and cut hay for the winter. Our winters are not harsh and we get very little snow so the grazing season is nearly year round. This is an ideal area to raise grass-fed cattle and dairy cows.

Atul Ranade

There has been a long debate whether or not one should consume the raw milk. People world wide have been drinking raw milk, with no side effects. People say about bacteria. But the fact is that animals do not give bacteria with milk, it may come from the infected containers or additives or touching with dirty hands. Now Health Canada advocates Pasteurization which means the raw milk is not hazardous, it is the way it is consumed. For centuries the milk is a part of regular diet in central Asia. The way they consume milk is after boiling. Had this tradition way before Louis Pasteur even thought about that. It is same as eating raw vegetables and meat and getting infection.
Then the question is why the milk is only victimized. It is business. The dairy industry could control the price, could make many fold profits, and keep consumers on their mercy.
Recently there was ecoli infection at XL Foods. Within a week the company got their license back because of Industry status. But nobody will ever think of poor farmer.
In my opinion instead of banning sale of raw milk, the consumer should be educated to boil before consuming. If not then there should be regulation to sell only cooked vegetables and meat.

Deanna phelps

We live near an Amish community that sells raw goat and cows milk. As far as I know none is ever tested for bacteria, etc. How can I be sure it is tested! This is in Crittenden County, KY.

Jaime McLeod

Deanna – You could ask. Different states have different laws about raw milk.


Thank you for your very helpful information. Next, I have to see how expensive the raw milk actually is (as was discussed in the communication above).


I have had a milk cow on and off(more on) for yrs.MC(My Cow) is # 6.The milk we drink is usually never over 24 hrs old.
I can understand why the milk at the turn of the century made people sick.How many farms that sold milk back in the day had running water?How did they clean those big milk cans everybody uses for decoration now?
Who was doing the milking?What type of refrigeration did they have especially hauling the milk from each farm to the main distributor?
I think it’s a shame that if somebody wants raw milk it’s a crime to sell it.If you come to my house and see my kitchen and my cow and feel I am clean enough and my cow is healthy and you want my milk,it should be up the the individual not the government telling you want you can and can not eat or drink.


I grew up in Wisconsin, the dairy state, drinking raw milk. Later, in Colorado, I raised my daughter on raw milk and her health was awesome! Of course, everyone grows up, and when it wasn’t available we all went back to pasteurized – not so great… Moving back to Colorado in 1990, I found that it wasn’t legal. Fortunately I found out about herd-share programs (see and have been drinking raw milk again since 2006. It has had no detrimental effects and I feel healther now than before.
I’d like to address the costs – I’m actually saving money compared to buying kefir and yogurt at the store. I pay $8/gal for 1 gal of milk. When I convert my gallon into Kefir at $3/qt ($6) and yogurt at $3.50/qt ($7), a total of $13/gal vs the $8/gal saving me $5/gal! And the quality is so much superior that I can’t afford not to buy it!


YES! And the lower health care costs too!


My mother grew up on a dairy farm where they always had fresh, raw milk. Unfortunately, my mom was allergic to the raw milk. The only way she could drink it without suffering an allergic reaction was to boil it.


Great post. I love raw milk, it is such a life saver. It is really important to realize the huge difference between living foods and dead ones. It is really a shame that raw milk is so expensive, but the cost is a result of our factory farm system which is destroying our planet and the poor animals that are trapped within it!


Also some get into raising grass-fed animals and doing organic vegies and raw milk, etc to make money. The demand was low so they charge high prices to make a decent profit from it. But now the demand is higher so the price should come down some.


Jaime, your article is a good summary of what has happened with our milk; thank you! However, I do want to make a clarification.
It is not the lactobacilli that have the immediate and main effect of breaking down lactose. Actually, they eat it for dinner! It is the enzyme, “lactase” which does the breaking down of milk sugar, making it digestible. Likewise, protease for protein and lipase for fat. These are all destroyed by pasteurization, as are also the all important fat-soluble vitamins, especially A, D, & K. Commercial dairies recognize the importance of true A & D (only available from animals fats, btw, not vegetables!) and so add synthetic vitamins, which cause other problems. Vitamin A toxicity, for instance, only occurs with the synthetic form of A; while synthetic D causes hyper-calcification (bone spurs, premature closing of an infant’s fontanelle, etc.). Nature’s form is always best!
Note to Mildred: first, was this farm keeping its cattle totally on clean, fresh grass, or was it one of those dirty farms that started grain & silage feeding back in the 70’s? If the latter, that would explain it. If not, I wonder if it was truly the milk that was the problem: was salmonella actually found in the milk, or was it just an easy conclusion for the doctor or public health officials to say it was the milk (as very often happens now)?
No food, including raw milk from the best grass-based dairy, is 100% safe; but product from this type of environment is *far* safer than its pasteurized counterpart, or most other foods commonly consumed.


My three sisters and I grew up on raw milk from our cow, Wendy. No one ever got sick, just a little repulsed when she ate wild onions. My mother made butter which I didn’t like at the time, but would love to taste again now. She also made wonderful whipped cream and ice cream from Wendy’s milk. Daddy tried to teach each of us how to milk the cow, but we could barely hit the bucket. He, however, could squirt the milk directly into the mouths of our cats who always gathered around hoping for a sip.

Sonii N

I raised alpine dairy goats when my kids were still at home and they all helped with the milking chores. We filtered it and drank it unpasturized. It was wonderful. Now I have been drinking raw jersey cow milk from a certified dairy for 9 years now and we love it so much. My daughters went through strong healthy pregnancies three times drinking the milk and now my three grandkids are growing to strong healthy kids on raw milk. We love to make yogurt, butter from the cream and ice cream. I would never drink a dead pasturized and homogenized product that just kills what the good Lord put into the milk in the first place. Recently, my sheep had twin lambs. One of them got chilled a few days later and was near death. I got 10 syringes of raw cow milk down her and then a few hours later a bottle and she revived. Store bought milk would have killed her but raw milk gave her real nutrients and she is now back with her Momma thriving 🙂


One thing I really notice while reading all these comments is how raw food/milk brings families together and the elders pass on important info to the next generation and the lovely memories it generates! This makes for a smarter, healthier, kinder population in my opinion rather than grabbing fast food all the time and staring at cell phones the whole time a family is together for a few minutes a day.


We have been drinking raw goat milk for awhile now. We have had no problems. We make yogurt, cheese, kefir. My family is allergic to regular milk. We lovegoat milk . Nice and fresh from the farm. The goat milk we get is sweet. The flavor is similar to cow milk. No funny aftertaste.

carl stevens

I drove for a milk hauling company some years ago, I received a gallon of free raw milk from several dairies before realizing there was a direct connection between milk from a dairy that was exceptionally clean and did a good job of cleaning the cows utter, VS one that does not, and is not as clean.
One should also take note of a study done a few years ago by the USDA cows fed exclusively organic grasses either baled or standing without added grains had virtually no E-coli in their feces or in their systems as a whole. Now some very high percentage of cows fed grains, and grasses had E-Coli in their feces. Also note that cows removed from a grain mixture diet and placed on a grass only diet thirty days prior to slaughter no longer had E-Coli in their feces…
Now I raise my own free range cows, chickens, sheep,and turkeys. as a result I have no need to be concerned
about my families food supply.

jo fletch

I grew up on a farm in wisconsin, raised on raw milk, never had a problem and was reasonably healthy, in the sixties i married, moved to town, drank pasteurized and got sick everytime i drank it, to this day i cannot drink pastureized milk.

Mildred Davis

About 25 years ago, my family and my daughter’s began delivery of raw milk from a local dairy. Unfortunately, we all came down with salmonella (confirmed by lab tests) and we were terribly ill for about two weeks. Never again… (this was the only time this dairy had a problem, but I still say, never again).


My husband is a dairy farmer’s kid and grew up drinking raw Holstein milk. I’m a townie with farming aspirations and keep around 20 head of mixed LaMancha and Nubian goats. We drink raw milk when the goats are producing and eat our own homemade cheese. Nobody in this house has ever gotten sick from our milk (or our home grown eggs for that matter)


The price of raw milk depends entirely on the distributor. I have two outlets for raw milk, one from Jersey cows (which I prefer because of the higher milk fat content) for which I pay $4 per gallon. The other is from a herd of Holsteins, which is less fat and, IME, less superior and they charge $6 per gallon. I can buy pastured eggs from both of those farmers in the summer, but this time of year the chickens are eating a flax/fish based meal (I can’t remember what else is in it but it’s organic and contains no soy or corn). $2.50 per dozen for candled eggs.

Pasteurized milk is just white water and it’s served up in a plastic jug, no less. Ewww.


And many raw food proponents also tout the virtues of goat milk over cow milk, because of the closer-to-human-milk qualities of the proteins and fats in goat milk (raw, of course!).

It’s funny how returning the cows to a more natural environment and more natural feeding habits returns their health. The same thing happens with humans as well–returning to a more natural diet reverses disease for us.


we have goats and have been drinking raw milk for over a year with no problems, we love it!

Elfi Metz

I grew up drinking raw milk and never had a problem. Pasteurized milk however made me lactose intolerant. Finding raw milk is only half the problem though. The other problem is cost effectiveness. I couldn’t afford raw milk if I found it. What a shame.

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