Drinking Unpasteurized Milk :: is it safe?

My family has been drinking unpasteurized milk for more than 5 years.

I weaned my first child on raw milk and drank it throughout my second pregnancy.

We have never been slightly sick from the milk we got while we lived in Oregon including our own fresh backyard goat milk. On the other hand, in these last five years, I have had a strong reaction to pasteurized/homogenized organic milk while on vacation in Canada.

In the mid Fall of 2011 we moved to Mexico.

At first we lived without milk at all until I found some raw goat milk through a neighbor. We knew very little about the farm it came from. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Drink it raw or boil it a little, or wait to test it somehow?

After some research I decided to try it ever so slowly and monitor any ill effects. We started with a teaspoon and waited 12 hours. Then we tried a ¼ cup and waited 6 hours. Then a ½ cup and after that we just drank it freely.

At one point, even after my test, I got so paranoid, I switched back to the pasteurized/homogenized (but hormone free) milk available at the store. I breathed a sigh of relief from all the worry and my kids immediately suffered from digestive upheaval. We all had gas and my youngest had full blown diarrhea. As soon as we stopped drinking the store milk he recovered. We were then in a new town and looking for a new source of raw milk.

One morning as we left the house for Tuesday Market, Fia spied a donkey in the street and we watched as it approached. It had a large metal can attached to each side and I recognized the sight from my internet research.

It was the milk man!

We asked about his milk and he said yes, he was carrying our precious leche cruda (raw milk). Yay!!!

The question remained, how was I to know if it was safe without testing it for pathogens and making lengthy farm visits (we didn’t have a car)? Was it possible?

So, what are bacteria anyway?

Bacteria are microorganisms that live on every surface you can imagine. They literally cover the world. They live on our skin and inside our bodies. Systems thrive by maintaining biodiversity and when this biodiversity is compromised (by disregarding Traditional Foods or introducing bacteria killing pharmaceuticals like antibiotics) the bad bacteria get the upper hand and make the organism sick. That’s the simple story. We pasteurize milk in order to compensate for two things:

  1. the loss of biodiveristy in the milk and
  2. the loss of biodiveristy in the milk drinker.

According to Stephen Harrod Buhner,

“Regular exposure to pathogenic bacteria teaches our bodies and our symbiotic bacteria how to respond most effectively to disease and produces higher levels of health in later life.”

“There is emerging  evidence…that human beings are supposed to have…one or more species of intestinal worms that co evolved with us living in our GI tracts. People in developing countries who usually have these parasites rarely develop inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers have found that the worms engage in an intricate modulation of the bodies immune system that positively affects bowel health. When Americans were given the worms by a physician, a majority…experienced complete remission of the disease. In past years in developed countries, these parasites were assumed to be evidence of disease and killed with the use of pharmaceuticals.” Language of Plants

Human beings (and every other living thing on the planet) are dependent on bacteria for health, vitality, and longevity.

Drinking pasteurized milk is only one of the foods we’ve denatured in modern industrial society, but it is one of the most important ones to recover. So, wherever you are here is what you need to consider when you decide to switch to raw milk from pasteurized milk, or when you are looking for safe raw milk in your community.

When drinking unpasteurized milk, there are 3 things to consider about your milk:


What your milking ruminant eats contributes greatly to the quality of its milk’s antimicrobial properties. Mike McAffee of Organic Pastures added ecoli to his 100% grass fed milk and it was overcome by beneficial bacteria. Ecoli, and other pathogens, die in milk from healthy cows. The same is true with healthy bodies. There are layers of protection. What are your milk animals eating?


While milking our own goats we used only a brush to clean off any loose hairs that might fall into the milk bucket and warm water to gently wash their teats. We never used soap, chlorine, or iodine on the animals and cleaned the milking bucket with our farm-crafted soap and water. However, this is a minimal level of sanitation.


*Update* Thanks to a few readers we have a little more clarity about disease. Tuberculosis & Brucellosis are not carried by, or transmitted through animals. Historically raw milk was contaminated by infected milkers who hacked into the milk. That said, if you live in a place where there are outbreaks of Tuberculosis & Brucellosis, apparently testing cows will tell you NOTHING! I suggest you do your research, know the symptoms & consequences, and what you would do if you suspected an outbreak in your family. Ask yourself things like – is it easy to recognize and diagnose, is it fatal with good treatment, what treatment would you start with / resort to? For example is there an effective homeopathic remedy you might try before a conventional medical intervention? How strong it your gut flora and immune system? Stuff like that.*

Tuberculosis & Brucellosis are diseases carried by ruminants that can be passed on to humans though consuming their milk. Here in Mexico, we have not found a farm that tests for this. So what’s a girl to do? Well, we considered the evidence: tuberculosis is not a problem in Mexico in general, and microdoses of it are actually beneficial for the immune system. We took our lives into our own hands and went ahead and consumed the milk after using the At home Tests I will describe later in this post.

When drinking unpasteurized milk, there are also 2 things to consider about the drinker:

Bacterial Balance – first line of defense:

Bacterial balance in the drinker’s system is an important factor in raw milk drinking safety. If a person does not have experience with difficult bacteria as a result of living a very sanitized life or if they have a weak intestinal flora from eating the Standard American Diet, they will need to restore balance before their system can benefit from a micro-immune challenge.

Immune Strength and Vigor:

People with compromised immune systems will have more trouble consuming anything with diverse bacterial load and will need to re-build their immune function before they will be able to eat freely.

Xoco and the Duck Poo:

My son, when he was 6 months old, persisted in seeking out bits of dried duck poo and eating it. At first I didn’t realize what he was doing so I didn’t intervene until he had already ingested quite a bit! I fretted for an hour or so until my husband mentioned, “Oh he does that all the time. He’s fine.”

I thought about it and weighed the risks of his dying from ecoli and how horrible I’d feel. I conjured up a taste of facing my kids death and decided that since he had already been eating it for 24 hrs with no ill affect, I would allow him to continue unfettered. His poo eating phase lasted about 3 months and he showed no sign of any problem.

2 Tests you can do at home:

The Teaspoon test:

Try a teaspoon and wait a few hours to see if there are any affects. If, after drinking the teaspoon of milk, you feel fine, try a little more each serving until you feel safe to drink it freely. This is a test, but it is also small inoculation. If you have any difficulties, either step back and build your immune system in other ways and return to the milk later, or if your reaction was small, occasionally give your body that same small amount of the milk to deal with and it will start a micro-immune response to anything funky about the milk you’re drinking and your reaction will decrease over time. Work on healing your gut and slowly increase your raw milk intake in order to develop your immune system resilience and increase health and longevity.

The Clabber test:

Set out a ½ cup or so of milk in a warm place (under 90º) and let it clabber. Healthy milk will smell and taste sour, but not rotten. A rotten smell can be a sign of an imbalance of bacteria (though we have drunk lot’s of milk that didn’t pass the clabber test but we knew was safe from other criteria). If it clabbers and smells wonderful, you have good milk. If you are sure your drinker is also strong, then go ahead and enjoy your milk!

*BONUS* The Community Test:

This test was pointed out by one of my readers who writes in the comments below, “I wanted to add for the benefit of some of your readers that one of our “tests” includes drinking milk from the same herder that other people we know have been drinking from and have stayed healthy.” This is a great test for people who have good gut flora and strong immune systems. If in doubt, about your system, start with “The Teaspoon Test.” Thanks to Sarah Zitterman of Saudia Arabia for offering this test, and for participating here in this Community Dialogue, your own principle in action!

Free Range Kids

At this point I want you to know about a woman who lets her 8 year old ride public transit alone. She blogged about it and found herself under attack and invited to appear on national TV. Apparently her decision was that controversial. Now her blog is all about debunking the cultural myths that interfere with raising independent, savvy, and creative kids. Check it out, and start choosing the good over the safe.

In the end it is your decision and one that you have to live with. These are just some ideas and guidelines as counterpoint to an alarmist, death fearing, disconnected world.

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mister Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But Aslan is good. He’s the King I tell you.

~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


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  1. Agi says:

    Thanks for a great post about raw milk and how to introduce it into your diet. You have a lot of good information on your blog, thanks for sharing it with us!
    I admire your trust in your own intuition!

  2. Joy says:

    Wonderful! We love our raw milk, have never had a problem drinking it in 3 years. I know the farm and the farmers and I trust them. Still, I’ve worried a bit off and on….. anyone can have a rough day and what if they forgot to sterilize the buckets or the jars or failed to wash the teats with hot soapy water….? I honestly feel a bit better now! I truly do believe in the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ (that being too clean dumbs down your immune system) but there sure is relentless pressure to be 100% SAFE. I like what you said about choosing the GOOD over the SAFE. And now excuse me while I go and gather some eggs from my backyard hens. Best of health to everyone!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this post, I loved hearing about your process in Mexico. I live in central Mexico and really want to drink la leche bronca, but I have had no idea how to go about finding a safe source on my own. Where I live there is a lot of milk and cheese production and there have been Brucellosis outbreaks. I find that there isn’t a lot of attention paid in how the animals are cared for, because it’s assumed that the milk will be boiled. Most of the cows are fed hay supplemented with feed and spend all their time in a stable area. I have a source right now that occasionally has access to pasture (I can always tell because the cream turns a gorgeous yellow), but I still do the 145 degree pasteurization technique. He’s an old timer and tends to evade specific questions, but he has a fairly sustainable approach to milking, he leaves half of his heard nursing babies and half for milk production and there is a span of a couple months where there is no milk at all. I appreciate your advice, I will take baby steps toward attaining a true leche bronca status, starting with the clabber test, and continue looking for ranchers who have a real relationship with the animals. Thank you!

  4. cowboss says:

    You forgot to mention Johne’s disease in cattle which has been linked to Crohn’s disease in people http://canadianfoodfacts.blogspot.ca/2012/03/raw-milk-and-crohns-is-it-really-worth.html

  5. krista says:

    Hi Agi, trusting one’s intuition in these times is certainly a tricky endeavor!
    Thanks for your vote of confidence!

  6. krista says:

    @Joy: While in Mexico we experienced regular bouts of exposure to, um,”rough day” consequences, but after 3 months we stopped disinfecting our vegetables (we still got sick plenty in our disinfecting stage) and then after 6 months we weren’t getting sick at all anymore. Our systems adjusted and I suspect, were stronger, as a result. Now we’re back in sanitary-land, despite our filthy ways. smile.

  7. Sarah Zitterman says:

    Wow! I can not thank you enough for this post! It is just what I needed right now. We have been raw milk drinkers for about 3 years, but when we moved to Saudi Arabia about two years ago, we had serious reservations. My DH is a medical doctor, and had me sick with worry about the risk of burcellosis!! We have access to fresh warm camel milk that we drive out and purchase directly from the herders, but had stopped drinking it out of the fear of burcellosis and tb. Your post has helped me regain some of the confidence I needed to make the trip out of town to get more of that goooood milk!!
    I wanted to add for the benefit of some of your readers that one of our “tests” includes drinking milk from the same herder that other people we know have been drinking from and have stayed healthy.
    Ultimately it is in God’s trust that we place ourselves, and as you said we have to weigh and make that choice between good and safe.

    • belinda says:

      Sarah Zitterman:
      Where do you go to get your camels milk? We’d like to know. We are raw dairy consumers and are so worried about reincorporating pasteurized dairy back into our diet when we move to Al Kobar/DH Saudi in November. Can you help with directions or persons to contact for this raw camel’s milk? Does it taste like cow’s milk at all or is it more like goat’s milk? Many Thanks for any information you can convey?! 🙂

  8. Ashley Edwards says:

    Hi Krista! I’m wondering – do you also eat raw butter/cheese? For the next month I am not eating any dairy as I have been experiencing a lot of digestive upset and it seems to go away on days when I don’t use any dairy (milk in coffee, etc.). Eventually I’d like to phase in raw milk and see how I fare with that, but I’m not sure what to do about other dairy products. I love cheese, but am happy sticking to goat/sheep’s cheese, if necessary, but I LOVE butter and use it all the time and am not sure if I want to use fake butter, like Earth Balance. Thoughts?

  9. krista says:

    @Elizabeth: Where are you in Central Mexico? We helped start a new Chapter in San Miguel de Allende (very first Chapter in Mexico!) who might be able to help you with sources. Let me know if you need help contacting them?

  10. krista says:

    @Sarah: TB and Brucellosis are the trickier issues as they might not show symptoms immediately. Do you research, know the symptoms & consequences, and what you would do if you suspected an outbreak in your family…. and then ask your heart to help you weigh the risk and make a decision. But also, let yourself feel that risk a little bit, let it in, and grieve a little… authentic grief is cleansing and can sometimes help the fog clear. Life has risk and repressing this fact doesn’t protect us from it though. I hope that’s not too weird of a response…. smile.

    I love your “Community Test” and will add it if I ever re-write this! It is perhaps the best test there is! Thank you for bring it here!!!

  11. krista says:

    @Ashley: It sorta depends on what is causing your digestive upset (lactose or protein allergy, or other intolerance). But really, the advice is the a lot the same in most any case: I would lay off all dairy and work on “gut healing” for a few months. Bone broth every day (drink it straight and/or you can cook it into all your grains & legumes), abdominal castor oil packs, and as much as lacto-fermented anything you can eat. Then try reintroducing raw milk products slowly (they say 3 days apart, but who can wait that long), starting with yogurt, then cheese and then plain raw milk…. and see how you do.

    p.s. Earth Balance? run…. most people who can’t handle other types of dairy can handle butter so keep it in there unless things don’t clear up! Butter is sacred, don’t you ever give it up!!! he he he…..

  12. krista says:

    @Ashley: Watch this. Clear information about Fat and which ones to love and which ones to avoid! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvKdYUCUca8

  13. krista says:

    Here is a response from another forum that I would like to address: “I drink milk raw from my own goats, but I kind of cringe at this person’s lack of sanitation…the antiseptic teat dip is to protect the GOAT (or cow :), not the person drinking the milk necessarily. Maybe our digestive systems could use more diverse bacteria, but the inside of an udder (and milk from a healthy animal) should be sterile. When you open up the teat orifice to get the milk out, you open up a place for bacteria from the environment to get into the teat — a place where there is normally no bacteria at all, good or bad. Baby goat saliva helps protect the orifice normally, but if we’re taking over baby’s job, it’s SO important that our hands are clean and we use an antiseptic — or at least soap — of some sort, before and after milking. A mammary infection (mastitis) is very hard to treat and many animals die of it. My two cents. :)”

    My response: We have been milking our own goats for over a year with no bouts of mastitis during milking periods. We have a very small herd (7 at its largest) and feed them exclusively alfalfa and pasture (no grains at all). We feel it is important to disturb the local teet bacteria as little as possible (there is nothing truly sterile in nature) and trust that infection is best treated through healthy and appropriate diet. We have also not had to de-worm because our girls’ guts are healthy. Grain feeding is the real culprit here. I do want to make one clarification. We do milk with clean hands using simple soap we make on the farm out of lard and lye, but we don’t scrub and disinfect our hands or our milk jar.

  14. […] How can you tell if your raw milk source is safe? Learn more from Krista Arias, author of MamaMuse.com, here. […]

  15. During the WWII post-war years we were so hungry that my little brother and I once scavenged a nice set of pig’s lungs from a fresh manure pile. Our aunt cooked them and forced us to eat such. A few hours later we had an upchucking contest. We all won.

    Fortunately, one of the few foods that was most readily available for us, from small nearby farmers, was raw milk and whey. We consumed them raw, as did many other people.

    And this will blow you away: My brother and I were imported to the US by some of our American relatives, who promptly enslaved us on their separate dairy farms. For more than two years I milked their cows and drank their milk that was enhanced with barnyard by-products. Hint: One was green and the other one was yellow. Yet, I never got sick, and neither did my brother.

  16. APearl says:

    I love how you mention the importance of our own immune systems function and the need to create a positive bacterial situation before embarking on raw milk. I grew up on a dairy farm where we drank raw milk exclusively. I loathe “store” milk and generally avoided milk when we didn’t have access to “farm milk” from home. We now help with the family farm and have regular access to farm milk (raw) but I do think sometimes people jump on the “raw milk is magic “bandwagon without realizing your body has to adjust its flora to be able to avoid illness. Also, sometimes I wonder about people who have problems with raw milk, may not be handling it properly. Pasturized store milk will last a long time the fridge, compared to raw milk, however; raw milk is meant to be consumed or otherwise fermented in a short amount of time. I generally find the cream I skim off and save for my coffee will last 4- 5 days before it wants to do some unsolicited fermenting on its own. But I grew up knowing this so we usually drink or ferment our milk in short order. These days with growing boys, I generally just have trouble keeping enough milk in the house. On a side note, my supposedly lactose intolerant son has no issues with raw milk or fermented milk products, so it’s a blessing we have a good source of milk (a farm we visit 2x a week and work on). I will buy organic non-homogenized from a local dairy for guests and family (husband’s) who would otherwise freak out at the thought of drinking milk raw and probably shouldn’t because their bodies really couldn’t handle it. And of course, there is always fresh water available to drink:)

  17. krista says:

    VERY Cool quote from (Darla Sparrow) a friend’s Facebook update:
    “It has been commonly thougth by vegetarians that all fermented foods contains at least trace amounts of B12. This assumption tends to be true in third world countries where sanitation is poor and B12-rich bacteria proliferate, especially in fermented products. People rarely show deficiencies of tht vitamin in these locales. On the other hand, in most Western countries where santiation is strongly enforced by law, food producers usually mainatain neraly sterile shops. Even though cleanliness is of unquestionalbe value in food processing, it does halt the natural propagation of B12 in ferments.” -Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford

  18. […] How can you tell if your raw milk source is safe? Learn more from Krista Arias, author of MamaMuse.com, here. […]

  19. Patrick Greenshield says:

    Thank you for a great article. Our family lives in Southern Spain. We drink raw goat milk every day. We would not even consider buying pasteurized milk in the stores.

    We did try a cup of pasteurized goat milk from the same goat. It tasted “dirty” or dry. It had a smell which we found unacceptable. We have made kefir, yogurt and ice cream from the same raw milk.

    I see a lot of discussion about risk. But I can find not one case of someone who has suffered because of drinking raw goat milk.

    Thanks again.

  20. Mary Adamczyk says:

    I was wondering if you have any information on where to purchase raw cows milk in the Puerto Vallarta area. We are about an hour north of PV. Thank you.


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