Q. Is it safe to drink milk that hasn't been pasteurized?

A. There's been a long-running debate between public health officials, who warn of the risks of drinking raw milk, and advocates who tout its health benefits.

A study out this month adds more weight to the "risk" side, finding that nearly 4 percent of Minnesotans sickened by microorganisms in the last 10 years had recently consumed raw milk. Assuming that far more people get sick than just those with positive lab tests, the study estimates that roughly 17 percent of all raw-milk consumers in the state were sickened.

"That's a lot of people who may become ill," said Trisha Robinson, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health who conducted the study, published Wednesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We hope people will take that number into consideration when weighing those risks for themselves and their family.


The American Academy of Pediatrics announced Monday that it is recommending that pregnant women and children avoid raw milk and raw-milk products because of the possible risk of bacterial infection.

Advocates argue that milk causes fewer illnesses than other foods, and that pasteurization — heating milk to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling — kills good bacteria along with bad.

Many parents report improvements in their child's health when drinking raw milk, according to Sally Fallon Morell, founder of the Campaign for Real Milk. Several European studies show that raw milk "provides powerful protection against asthma, allergies, and eczema," she said.

In Massachusetts, raw milk can be bought only directly from farms, though advocates are trying to pass legislation that would allow farmers to deliver to customers.

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