Raw Milk

Milk and milk products sold in Canada must meet food safety requirements. Only buy pasteurized milk products from grocery stores or other reputable stores. Remember to store all dairy products at the proper temperature which is 4°C or lower.

What is raw milk?

  • Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized.
  • In Canada, it is illegal for anyone to sell raw milk to consumers.
    • Federal and provincial laws both state that raw milk must be pasteurized before it is sold.

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Is raw milk safe to drink?

  • No. Raw milk may contain bacteria that can cause serious diseases, including:
    • Salmonella
    • E. coli
    • Listeria monocytogenes - this organism can cause septicemia, meningitis and may even result in death.

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What is pasteurization?

  • Pasteurization heats milk to high temperatures and kills bacteria that can cause disease, making it safe to drink.
  • This process doesn't significantly change milk's: 
    • nutritional content
    • flavour
    • quality
  • Rapid cooling of the milk helps prevent spoilage and keeps it safe to drink.

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Why is pasteurized milk more safe to drink than raw milk?

  • Pasteurization kills Listeria monocytogenes and all other harmful bacteria.
  • Before pasteurization was adopted in the early 1900s, there were many outbreaks of milk-borne disease and death in Canada.
  • With pasteurization, public health in Canada took a giant step forward.

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How does pasteurization make milk safe to drink?

  • Pasteurization is a heating process.
  • The minimal pasteurization requirement in Ontario is to heat the milk to 72°C for 16 seconds at a dairy processing plant.
  • This process destroys disease producing bacteria.

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Is raw milk nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk?

  • No. Pasteurization destroys disease-causing organisms.
  • It does not affect the quality of nutrients present in milk, such as:
    • calcium
    • protein
    • riboflavin
    • niacin
    • folic acid
    • vitamin B6
    • pantothenic acid
    • vitamin A
  • About 20% of vitamin C is destroyed during pasteurization, but milk is not a significant source of vitamin C to begin with.
  • While some people believe that raw milk is nutritionally superior, any supposed health benefit is greatly outweighed by the overwhelming evidence that drinking unpasteurized milk can make you sick.
  • There is no evidence that raw milk is nutritionally superior.
  • Parents should consider that children are particularly at risk for infections from drinking raw milk, and make the safe choice to give them only pasteurized milk.

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Is it legal to sell raw milk cheese in Ontario?

  • Yes, in some cases.
  • Certain raw milk cheeses are permitted provided that they meet the legislated requirements (provincial and federal) for manufacturing and aging.

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Are some people more at risk than others?

  • Yes. Certain groups are at increased risk of serious illness, such as:
    • young children
    • the elderly
    • people who are ill
    • pregnant women - it can result in stillbirth, or miscarriage.
    • those with weakened immune systems

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Can the bacteria from drinking unpasteurized milk be passed on to others?

  • Yes. The infection can be passed from person to person by hand-to-mouth contact.
  • Individuals can also become carriers of disease, passing the disease on to another person without showing signs of illness themselves.

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What are the signs of infection?

  • Signs of infection are:
    • severe diarrhea
    • cramps
    • fever
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • headache
    • dehydration
  • Infection can also lead to:
    • life-threatening kidney failure
    • meningitis
    • miscarriage
    • death

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What should I do if I drink raw milk and develop symptoms?

  • Anyone who shows symptoms should see their doctor immediately.
  • About 10% of people with E. coli 0157 develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).
    • HUS is a serious complication that can lead to kidney failure and death.

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What should I do if I find unpasteurized milk products for sale?

  • It is illegal to sell, deliver or distribute unpasteurized milk.
  • Unpasteurized milk sales should be reported to:
    • The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) complaint line 
      1-800-466-2372 ext. 64391
      OR
    • Contact your local public health unit External Link.

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