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Why is Raw Milk Cheese Considered Dangerous?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Raw milk cheese is made with milk that has not been pasteurized, and is considered by some medical professionals to carry health risks not associated with pasteurized cheeses. There is a great deal of debate over raw milk cheese and its relative dangers, although the general consensus is that it should be avoided by pregnant women and the immunodeficient. This cheese is believed to be dangerous because it carries a higher risk of bacterial infection than pasteurized milk cheeses, especially if handled badly.

When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a high temperature and held there for a set amount of time to kill harmful bacteria such as Listeria, E. Coli, campylobacter, salmonella, and others. Pasteurized milk is not technically sterile; it simply carries less potential bacterial risk than raw milk does. All fresh and moisture-rich cheeses in the United States are made with pasteurized milk due to concerns about infection. It is still possible for pasteurized milk to become contaminated, however, and like any food product it should be handled carefully and kept under proper refrigeration.

Raw milk cheese is more likely to harbor harmful bacteria, because the bacteria are never killed via a pasteurization process. As a result, if the milk becomes contaminated with any bacteria during the milking or cheese making process, that bacteria will present in the final product. Consumers would then be exposed to bacteria which could cause anything from mild stomach distress to death. For this reason, many countries including the United States restrict the sale of raw milk cheese, out of public health concerns.

There is a long culinary tradition of raw milk cheese, and some consumers feel that it is superior to pasteurized cheese. For this reason, they seek out cheeses made with raw milk, willing to take the risk of bacterial infection in the pursuit of culinary pleasure. As cheese ages, it becomes more acidic, meaning that raw milk cheese which is older is much safer to eat. Some organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration feel that flavor is not worth the health risk, and do not condone the consumption of raw milk dairy products.

Ultimately, the raw milk versus pasteurized milk cheese debate is about infection and contamination control. Major outbreaks of food borne illness can be carried by pasteurized milk which has been contaminated by the manufacturing process just as easily as they can by raw milk. In general, milk and cheese products should be handled with care, and discarded if they look, smell, or taste “off” to the consumer.

Pasteurization is only one part of infection control, and a dairy which is kept clean and sterile should produce healthy milk. If cows are allowed to roam, kept clean, and given appropriate veterinary care, they will also be less likely to carry potentially harmful bacteria to pass on to consumers. When purchasing raw milk cheese, it is an excellent idea to go to the source so that you can inspect the conditions for cleanliness personally before buying the cheese product. Any reputable dairy is delighted to show guests around their facility, demonstrating the steps taken to reduce the risk of bacterially contaminated milk.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon324175 — On Mar 08, 2013

Correlation is not causation. I'll trade the correlation between pasteurized milk and diabetes with the correlation between pasteurized milk and longer life spans. Either correlation clearly contains spurious relationships, but we can probably attribute diabetes more to easy availability of sugar and sweetened products, especially soft drinks, and the obesity epidemic.

Pasteurization was part of the larger public health project, that included sewers, water treatment, and sterilization of medical instruments and procedures. So there is probably a closer relationship between pasteurization and longer life than to diabetes. My grandmother (who was born in the 1880s in Europe) always heated milk to boiling (even when she was told about pasteurization) because that is what people did in her childhood to avoid milk-borne illness.

By anon144653 — On Jan 20, 2011

Yeah right! Pasteurization kills off bacteria including the good bacteria that helps digestion. I am not good at this debate but I damn sure know the ill effects of overly processed food especially those that went through heating processes.

Come to think of it, how come cases of diabetes and obesity skyrocketed after all of these propaganda under the guise of "healthy measures" came out. I'm an organic, grass fed milk and cheese eater and let me tell you I've never been sick from it and neither have my kids. I'm a firm believer in taking food in its raw state. It is better for you.

By anon89264 — On Jun 09, 2010

The federal government requires all unpasteurized cheese to be aged for 60 days. Fresh pasteurized cheese is considered to be less safe than aged unpasteurized hard cheese due to contamination risk.

By anon45045 — On Sep 13, 2009

Propaganda. Just do some research on the subject, Raw milk has always been around and no government ever so much as advised to boil milk, much less ban it. The government wants you sick, tired and broke.

By anon17232 — On Aug 25, 2008

The very fact that the federal government, which was originally intended to encourage commerce and manage foreign affairs, is now getting involved in what I can and cannot purchase or eat of my own free will is enough to make me want to eat raw dairy. Choice is one of our "inalienable rights." But this is one more example of our rights being taken away. American was a grand experiment, but it's looking pretty sickly lately!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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