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Raw Milk and Raw Dairy Products

What You Need to Know

  • Raw milk and dairy products made with raw milk can contain harmful germs that can make people sick.

  • Anyone can get sick from germs in raw milk, but people with weakened immune systems, children, older adults, and pregnant women are more likely to get very sick.

  • The best way to prevent getting sick from germs in raw milk is to choose pasteurized milk and dairy products made with pasteurized milk. Pasteurization is the special process of heating milk to a high enough temperature to kill harmful germs that can be found in milk.

Raw milk

What is unpasteurized ("raw") milk?

Unpasteurized milk—sometimes called "raw" milk—is milk that has not been treated to remove harmful germs through pasteurization. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a temperature at which harmful germs are killed.

Pasteurization is an important step in getting milk safely from the farm to your table. Germs found in the environment can contaminate milk at any point in the production process. Most commonly, germs that get into milk come from animal feces (poop). Even on the cleanest farms, poop particles are present:

      • Illustration of a cow grazing

        On and around the animals' udders
        (the part of a cow, goat, or other animal that produces milk)

      • In the environment (including in soil, water, or animal poop/manure)

      • On the equipment used to milk an animal 

Illustration of machinery milking cows

When someone drinks raw milk, they also are drinking any germs that may be in the raw milk. These germs can make a person sick. These disease-causing germs can also be found in milk products such as cheese and creams that are made from raw milk. Eating or drinking unpasteurized milk products can also make people sick.

What are the health risks of eating or drinking something made with raw milk?

Illustration of germs in raw milk

Raw milk and dairy products made from raw milk can contain harmful bacteria such as:

Although not as common, raw milk can also contain germs such as Brucella, Cryptosporidium, Mycobacterium bovis, and Yersinia. Many of these germs naturally live in the intestines of farm animals. 

Germs from raw milk can make people sick. The bacteria most commonly found in raw milk can cause symptoms such as:

      • Diarrhea
      • Stomach cramps
      • Vomiting
      • Fever

Other conditions such as muscle weakness and paralysis (from Campylobacter), sudden kidney failure and anemia (from E. coli O157:H7), or miscarriage in pregnant women (from Listeria monocytogenes) can also occur.

Isn't raw milk supposed to be healthy?

There is no difference in the nutritional value between raw milk and pasteurized milk. Raw (unpasteurized) milk is not the same as organic milk or milk that comes from grass-fed animals, and it does not mean it is better for you than pasteurized milk. Raw milk can still contain harmful bacteria even if it is organic, from grass-fed animals, or from very clean farms.

Raw milk also cannot give you "good bacteria" (also called probiotics). Probiotics can be found in pasteurized dairy products such as yogurt or kefir, which are safer to eat than raw milk.

For more questions and answers about raw milk, please see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Raw Milk Questions and Answers webpage.

Are raw milk and raw milk products available in California?

Raw milk from cows, sheep, and goats may be legally sold in California if a dairy farm meets specific requirements for sanitation and licensing. Animals at the facilities and farms that are approved to sell raw milk in California must be tested for specific diseases, including brucellosis and tuberculosis. Farm workers at these facilities must also be free from infectious germs and pathogens that can contaminate milk and make people sick.

There is no guarantee that these measures will produce raw milk dairy products that are free from harmful germs or are as safe to eat or drink as pasteurized milk products. That is why farms that produce and sell raw milk must include a warning label on all raw milk dairy products which tells people that the product they are purchasing may contain bacteria and germs that can make them sick.  In fact, although these precautions and legal requirements are in place, contamination of raw milk still occurs, and there have been recent recalls of raw milk products and disease outbreaks in California.

For more information about foodborne outbreaks and product contamination in California, including outbreaks related to raw milk, please see the CDPH Food and Drug Branch Environmental Investigation Reports webpage.

Raw Milk from Outside of California

Cheese and other dairy products made from unpasteurized milk are available in other countries, including Mexico, and can be transported to California. Many of these products are sold by vendors who don't have a license to sell dairy products, or are selling products that aren't regulated for health and safety. The information available on the labels of dairy products from other countries may be limited and may not say if the milk was pasteurized or where the product was made. Products sold at open markets, roadside stands, or street vendors may not have any label at all. Unpasteurized dairy products from Mexico have been associated with many illnesses and outbreaks of disease in California in people who either consume the products while visiting Mexico or transport them back to California. The best way to protect yourself from getting sick is to eat only dairy products that are clearly labeled as "pasteurized".

Who is more likely to get sick from raw milk?

Anyone can get sick from raw milk, but people with weakened immune systems (such as those with cancer, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS), children, older adults, and pregnant women are more likely to get sick.

How can I protect my family and myself from germs in raw milk? 
    • Choose pasteruized milk

      The best way to prevent illness from raw milk is to choose and use pasteurized milk. Cheese and other dairy products (such as queso fresco, yogurt, and ice cream) should be made with milk that has been pasteurized.

    • Be sure to keep all milk and dairy products in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below. When milk is not kept cold, bacteria can start to grow in the milk, even if it has been pasteurized. Milk that has been out of the refrigerator for more than two hours should be thrown away.

Illustration of the milk production process from milking to delivering pasteurized milk to the store

How do I know if a dairy product is pasteurized?

Raw milk products can look the same as pasteurized milk products, so you need to check the label to make sure what you are buying or about to eat or drink has been pasteurized. When purchasing milk, read information available on the product packaging and look for labels that clearly say "pasteurized". A pasteurization label is often on the front of the container or near the nutritional facts.

       Milk carton label that says the milk is pasteurized   Woman reading the label on a dairy product at the grocery store     

When purchasing milk products (such as soft cheeses), look for products that have "pasteurized milk" listed in the ingredients, often near the nutrition facts.

Man reading cheese label at a grocery store  Queso Fresco cheese label showing pasteurized milk in ingredients

Dairy product label used for educational purposes only. CDPH does not endorse or sponsor any commercial product.

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