Customer: “The card on this cheese says that it is made from raw milk… is that true? I didn’t think they were allowed to sell raw milk cheese…”
Me: “It is raw milk, but it’s been aged for at least 60 days…as per the USFDA regulations”
This question has come up more than once. And so, it got me to thinking, what is the story behind this 60-day rule?
While doing research for the answer to this question, I came across many other topics that may help give you, the reader, a better and more comprehensive understanding of raw and pasteurized milk and milk products in the United States. And so, I realized that in order to properly tell this story I’ll have to let it unfold in multiple parts. First, I’ll give a brief background on what raw milk is, the ways milk can become contaminated, and the pasteurization of milk as per the regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Next, I’ll go ahead and look into the story of how the regulation developed throughout history, and perhaps address various states’ regulations regarding raw milk sales and European regulations regarding the manufacture and sales of raw milk and fresh cheese as well as a discussion of the flavor of pasteurized versus unpasteurized cheeses. For now, let us begin with the basics:
What is Raw Milk?
Raw milk is un pasteurized milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals. It is thought, but not known exactly, that less than 1% of milk sold to consumers in the United States has not been pasteurized.
What Contaminates Could Be Found In Raw Milk?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that can make you very sick or kill you. A wide variety of bacteria (e.g., Brucella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis (a cause of tuberculosis),Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli [e.g., E. coli O157], Shigella, Yersinia), viruses (e.g., norovirus), and parasites (e.g., Giardia) that can make people sick or on few occasions, be fatal are sometimes found in raw milk. The CDC also states that while it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.
These bacteria, viruses, and parasites may introduce themselves to milk through many different routes, such as:
• Cow feces coming into direct contact with the milk
• Infection of the cow’s udder (mastitis)
• Cow diseases (e.g., bovine tuberculosis)
• Bacteria that live on the skin of cows
• Environment (e.g., feces, dirt, processing equipment)
• Insects, rodents, and other animal vectors
• Humans, for example, by cross-contamination from soiled clothing and boots
What Is Pasteurization?
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill illness-causing bacteria contained in the milk and is the only way to kill many of the bacteria in milk that can make people very sick.
According to Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Volume 8, Section 1240.61 (Revised as of April 1, 2012), the terms “pasteurization,” “pasteurized,” and similar terms shall mean the process of heating every particle of milk and milk product in properly designed and operated equipment to one of the temperatures given in the following table and held continuously at or above that temperature for at least the corresponding specified time:
Is Pasteurization 100% Effective?
Pasteurized milk products have occasionally caused illnesses and outbreak because of germs introduced in the dairy after the pasteurization process. However, pasteurized milk that is correctly handled in the dairy, bottled, sealed, and refrigerated after pasteurization, and that is properly handled by the consumer, is very unlikely to contain illness-causing bacteria. Considering the amount of pasteurized milk consumed in the United States, illness from it is exceedingly rare.
(1) Raw Milk Questions and Answers, Center For Disease Control and Prevention Website
http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-questions-and-answers.html#rawmilk Last Accessed: November 4, 2012
http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=1240.61 Last Accessed: November 4, 2012