Raw versus pasteurized versus . . . . .

We were reminded again last Friday of the risks that consumers face when they opt to drink raw milk.

The Michigan Department of Community Health issued a public health alert on March 19th, after eight confirmed cases of Campylobacter infections were reported among residents of three counties in the state. The victims of this outbreak had consumed raw milk obtained from the Family Farms Cooperative in Vandalia, Michigan. through a cow-share program.

Cow share programs are used in many US states and Canadian provinces as a means to sidestep prohibitions against the retail sale of raw milk for human consumption. Instead of purchasing raw milk directly, consumers “buy” part ownership in a cow’s – or a dairy herd’s – output.

Although some states – California, for example – have legalized and regulated the retail sale of raw milk, FDA does not permit interstate shipment for human consumption of unpasteurized milk for retail sale. As far as FDA is concerned, consuming raw milk is a risky business. These risks include Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter.

Why do some individuals insist on drinking raw milk – and serving it to their children – in spite of the microbiological risk? Mainly because of a concern that pasteurization, which requires heating the milk, destroys key nutrients present in raw milk and degrades the flavor of the fresh product.

What if there was a way to make raw milk microbiologically safe without heating it?

I’m not talking about irradiation. I’m not talking about adding chemicals. I’m not talking about adding “good” bacteria or bacteriophages to the milk.

I am referring to a process known as High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP). This technology is already in use in several sectors of the food industry. It has been applied to deli meats, fruit juices, deli salads, and produce. Recently, Nature’s Variety – a manufacturer of “raw” pet foods – announced that it had decided to incorporate HPP treatment into its manufacturing process in order to ensure the microbiological safety of its pet foods.

As far as I am aware, no dairies have adopted HPP as an alternative to conventional heat pasteurization for fluid milk. But a literature search turned up a smattering of tantalizing research studies. I would be surprised if the manufacturers of HPP equipment were not funding research into this application of their technology.

Perhaps, some day the raw milk versus pasteurized milk debate will become history – made obsolete by a new technology that doesn’t rely on either heat or irradiation.