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Is it safe to drink raw milk? Wisconsin dairy researcher weighs in

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At the Wisconsin Farm Bureau convention last month, delegates from America’s Dairyland, the largest general farm organization, voted to support legalizing raw milk sales by farmers.

But public health authorities and dairy researchers continue to urge caution. They warn that consuming raw milk is still too risky.

John Lucey is director of the Dairy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” to answer questions about the safety of raw milk. He stressed the need to protect children.

“They’re the ones who often drink it for breakfast as well. They’re more sensitive because their immune systems aren’t as highly developed,” Lucey said. “That’s what bothers me and keeps me up at night.”

Citing three studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to raw milk occur in states where its sale is legal. The sale of raw milk is mostly illegal in Wisconsin under state law.

On “The Morning Show,” Lucey discussed Wisconsin’s laws for selling raw milk, the pasteurization process, and the taste of raw milk.

Dairy cows are housed at Mahogany Dairy on Friday, October 14, 2022, in rural Monroe County, Wisconsin.

The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Kate Archer Kent: What separates raw milk from the milk someone buys at the store?

John Lucey: The main (difference) between pasteurized milk and raw milk is the heat treatment given to pasteurized milk. This is a legal requirement for a specific temperature and time. The most common is about 161 degrees for 15 seconds. There are a few other time (and) temperature combinations for things like cream and other products.