Health Column: Weighing the risks of drinking raw milk

Raw milk at Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville costs $6 a half-gallon. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)
Raw milk at Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville costs $6 a half-gallon. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

Last week, when my coworker posted a picture to Facebook of a bottle of raw milk she had just purchased from Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville, I was intrigued — and a little unnerved.

After all, Louis Pasteur, who discovered the principles of pasteurization in the 19th century, was revered in my elementary school science classes. It was there that I learned how lucky I was that Pasteur had figured out how to prevent dangerous bacteria from contaminating the chocolate milk I loved so much. Why would anyone choose to seemingly go back in time and drink it raw? And is the practice dangerous?

According to Elizabeth Wines of Ty Llwyd Farm, whose family began producing raw milk for commercial consumption six years ago, the answer is no.

Inspectors from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets test the milk Ty Llwyd sells for harmful bacteria each month, Ms. Wines said, “to make sure it passes the test.”

Caitlin Grilli, a farm employee, added that the teats of the 12 dairy cows they currently milk are dipped in iodine before and after the milking process to help strip away bacteria.

These extra precautions are worth it, Ms. Wines and Ms. Grilli said, because the resulting product tastes better than anything you’d find on a supermarket shelf.

“It tastes creamier and fresher — more of a wholesome taste, I think,” Ms. Wines said.

New York is one of 17 states that permit on-farm sales of raw milk. Another 17 states prohibit the sale of raw milk for human consumption outright, including nearby New Jersey.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk is better left avoided.

“Many people believe that foods with no or minimal processing are better for their health,” the CDC’s website states. “Many people also believe that small, local farms are better sources of healthy food. However, some types of processing are needed to protect health.”

Illness caused by germs in raw milk can include “many days” of diarrhea, stomach cramping and vomiting, according to the CDC. Less commonly, it can even lead to kidney failure, stroke or death. Infants, young children, women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk of becoming sick from drinking raw milk.
Despite this, Ms. Wines said she has a lot of lactose-intolerant customers who are able to drink the raw milk Ty Llwyd sells.

“And some people tell me it helps clear up their allergies. It’s easier on their stomachs, too,” she added. “And also, when you pasteurize milk, you destroy so much of the good bacteria and the good enzymes.”

Maybe this is true; maybe it’s not. I can’t pretend to know. But people like Ms. Grilli told me that once you try raw milk, you’ll never go back to the stuff Pasteur pioneered.

“Oh my gosh, I love it,” she said. “Pasteurized milk has a funny taste to it.”

What’s your take on raw milk? Email Rachel Young at [email protected].