Fact sheet lists critical areas for raw-milk safety
Farmers and consumers urged to be informed, careful and in communication

By Greg Bowman

June 15, 2007: Three groups based in Nebraska have released a consensus document to guide farmers and consumers in the safe producing and handling of raw milk.

The “Raw Milk Use and Safety Fact Sheet” emphasizes the need for open communication between farmers and consumers. It lays out the history of milk pasteurization, the universe of possible milk-borne pathogens and the respective roles of animal husbandry and sanitary handling for obtaining safe raw milk with optimal human benefits.

The 16-page report opens with a science module on pasteurization and the composition of cow’s milk, then follows with modules for dairy farmers and raw-milk consumers. Nearly half the report lists citations of scientific, regulatory and technical publications.

Discussion during and following the National Raw Milk Use and Safety Summit in May, 2006, in Norfolk, Nebraska, contributed to the report. Involved were farmer and consumer groups, with attendance also by public economic planning and educational representatives.

Authoring the piece were Martin Kleinschmit of the Center for Rural Affairs of Hartington; a representative from the Northeast Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development; and Terry Gompert of Center, Nebraska, a Holistic Management Certified Educator.

The authors say the purpose of the fact sheet is to:

  • Assure that raw milk marketed and used will be safe
  • Assist educators and regulators to encourage appropriate raw-milk use
  • Enhance research investments into raw-milk production and use in beneficial ways
  • Educate consumers on the difference between milk intended for sale as raw milk and the commercially processed milk found in the store, and the impacts of pasteurization and homogenization on milk.

Major points in the fact sheet include:

  • “Pasteurization not only kills bad bacteria and pathogens, but also kills beneficial bacteria and destroys enzymes.” This includes the enzymes phosphatase, essential in the absorption of calcium, and lipase, which aids in the digestion of fats. It also alters proteins and reduces the levels of Vitamins A, C, E, D and F.
  • “Most conventionally produced milk from confined cows should still be properly pasteurized to reduce potential disease outbreaks.” The report notes that in recent University of California Davis tests, 31 percent of raw milk samples taken from farm tanks of conventional milk intended for pasteurization contained detectible human pathogens. Mixing of this milk for processing would cause contamination of the entire lot, making pasteurization a necessary step for this type of milk.
  • “What the cow eats affects the milk quality. Milk quality includes many things—fats, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, flavor and more. If the cow’s diet is primarily forage from green, growing pastures, her milk will contain more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), increased vitamins and minerals, and slightly higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids.”

Summary points on milk pathogens include:

  • Pathogens in milk are in-part the result of poor sanitation, animal stress and animal sickness
  • On-farm milk testing can be done in a timely and economical manner: consider on farm testing, independent laboratory testing and Grade-A testing
  • Raw-milk standards should be superior to traditional milk supply
  • The consumer should be comfortable with the farmer and husbandry practices.

Testing, cleanliness and prompt cooling of milk are emphasized in the farmer module, along with counsel for herd-health management and opening testing records to customers. Customers are advised to understand how to handle raw milk safely and to consult professionals with family health concerns. Both farmers and consumers should continue to learn about milk safety and work to improve.

For hard copies or an electronic PDF file of the report, contact Terry Gompert, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Knox County, P.O. Box 45, Center NE 68724, (402) 288-5611, fax (402) 288-5612, knox-county@unl.edu.

To view the fact sheet, click here.