Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness. Implementing current good hygiene practices at farms is essential to reduce raw milk contamination, while maintaining the cold chain is also important to prevent or slow the growth of bacteria in raw milk. However, these practices alone do not eliminate these risks. Boiling raw milk before consumption is the best way to kill many of the bacteria that can make people sick.
Consumer interest in drinking raw milk has been growing in the European Union (EU) as many people believe it has health benefits. Under EU hygiene rules, Member States can prohibit or restrict the placing on the market of raw milk intended for human consumption. Sale of raw drinking milk through vending machines is permitted in some Member States, but consumers are usually instructed to boil the milk before consumption.
In their scientific opinion on public health risks associated with raw milk in the EU, experts from EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) conclude that raw milk can be a source of harmful bacteria – mainly Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC).
The Panel could not quantify the public health risks associated with drinking raw milk in the EU due to data gaps. However, according to Member State data on food-borne disease outbreaks, between 2007 and 2013, 27 outbreaks were due to the consumption of raw milk.
Most of them – 21 – were caused by Campylobacter, one was caused by Salmonella, two by STEC and three by tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). A large majority of the outbreaks were due to raw cow’s milk, while a few of them originated from raw goat’s milk.
“There is a need for improved communication to consumers on the hazards and control measures associated with consumption of raw drinking milk,” says John Griffin, Chair of the BIOHAZ Panel.
Infants, children, pregnant women, old people and those with a weakened immune system have a higher risk of falling ill from drinking raw milk.
Raw milk is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that has not been heated to more than 40°C nor undergone any treatment with the same effect.