A new report from the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, says that unpasteurized, or "raw", milk is 150 times more likely to be the cause of a foodborne illness than the pasteurized stuff.
Published this week in the CDC's journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the study looked at data running from 1993 to 2006--and covering food poisoning cases in all 50 US states. What the researchers discovered was that in that time there were 121 disease outbreaks that were ultimately blamed on tainted dairy products. Those outbreaks sickened more than 4400 people and hospitalized nearly 240. And at least 3 people died as a result of drinking contaminated milk or eating foods made from it.
In most of those outbreaks the dairy product in question was milk--and a full 60% of them were raw milk. The numbers get even more grim. Of the 239 cases that required hospital treatment most of those were linked to raw milk, as well.
Given those numbers it probably won't surprise you to learn that most outbreaks of dairy-borne illnesses occurred in states where sales of raw milk directly to the public were legal. (At the start of the study 21 states made it legal to sell unpasteurized dairy products directly to the public but over the course of 13-year study 7 states changed their laws.)
Another thing this study found is that when milk does cause food poisoning those infections tend to be more severe if they're caused by raw milk. They are also far more likely to require a hospital stay. (13 to 1 was the statistic quoted.)
Most disturbing, though, is the news that most cases of raw milk infections happen to kids. A full 60% of all raw-milk poisonings occurred in kids younger than 20 years of age. And, as you might expect, kids are less likely to successfully fight the infection than adults.