How long does raw milk last?


Kurt Olsen

Raw milk, distinguished by its lack of pasteurization, refers to milk that has not undergone the process of heating to a specific temperature for a predetermined duration, typically around 15 seconds, in order to eliminate bacteria and other potentially detrimental microorganisms present in the liquid. The shelf life of raw milk is a subject of intense deliberation and discourse within the realm of dairy consumption. In this article, we will delve into the duration for which raw milk remains viable and explore optimal storage practices to maintain its quality and safety.

What is raw milk?

Is milk that has not undergone the process of pasteurization. Pasteurization involves the application of gentle heat to partially sterilize food or drink. Hence, raw milk refers to milk that has not been subjected to this mild heat treatment commonly used to kill harmful bacteria and extend shelf life. By opting for raw milk, individuals consume the product in its natural state, potentially retaining more of its natural nutrients and enzymes. However, it is crucial to note that raw milk carries a higher risk of bacterial contamination compared to pasteurized milk, which is why it is important to consider the potential health implications before consuming it.

Why was milk ever pasteurized to begin with?

The process of pasteurization was initially introduced with the objective of eradicating disease-causing germs and thwarting spoilage in milk. By subjecting milk to controlled heat treatment, harmful pathogens and microorganisms that can transmit diseases are effectively destroyed. Additionally, pasteurization inhibits the growth of spoilage-causing bacteria, prolonging the shelf life of milk. This method has proven to be a crucial step in ensuring the safety and quality of milk, thereby safeguarding the health of consumers. Consequently, pasteurization has become a widely adopted practice in the dairy industry to minimize health risks associated with consuming raw or untreated milk.

Why is pasteurization bad if it reduces contamination with pathogens?

Although pasteurization is effective in reducing contamination with harmful pathogens, it is not without its drawbacks. One significant concern is the elimination of beneficial lactobacilli, which are responsible for producing vitamin K2 and aiding in the absorption of nutrients, as well as maintaining optimal gut function. Additionally, the process of pasteurization converts lactose, the sugar present in milk, into beta-lactose, a more soluble form that is rapidly absorbed by the body. This increased rate of absorption can result in a quicker onset of hunger for individuals consuming pasteurized milk. Furthermore, pasteurization leads to the insolubilization of a substantial portion of calcium found in raw milk. This alteration has been associated with potential consequences such as rickets, dental issues, and nervous disorders. Thus, while pasteurization may address pathogenic contamination concerns, its negative impacts on nutrient availability, hunger regulation, and calcium solubility warrant careful consideration.

What are the risks associated with drinking raw milk?

Consuming raw milk entails assuming a comparable, if not lower, level of risk compared to other grocery store items. Intriguingly, there have been more reported instances of health complications associated with pasteurized milk than with raw milk up to this point. Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge that raw milk does carry inherent risks that should not be disregarded. The primary concern is the potential presence of harmful bacteria, including pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which can cause severe foodborne illnesses. Furthermore, raw milk’s natural state, devoid of the pasteurization process, means that it may contain enzymes and substances that could trigger adverse reactions in sensitive individuals. Thus, it is crucial to weigh the potential health risks associated with raw milk consumption and make informed decisions based on personal circumstances and preferences.

If I’m going to drink raw milk, what qualities should I look for?

When considering the consumption of raw milk, it is essential to prioritize certain qualities in order to ensure optimal safety and quality.

  • Firstly, the cows should primarily graze on unsprayed pastures, except during the coldest months when they are fed mainly hay and silage while in barns.
  • Additionally, it is crucial that the herd undergoes regular testing to confirm its freedom from tuberculosis (TB) and brucellosis, both of which are significant health concerns.
  • Furthermore, if a milking machine is employed, the cow’s teats should be diligently washed with iodine before the application of milking caps.
  • Maintaining a clean and tidy environment in the milking shed and its surroundings is imperative.
  • Proper storage of milk is equally vital, with chilled storage in stainless steel tanks or individual containers being the preferred method.
  • Regular testing of the milk should also be conducted to ensure the absence of human pathogens.
  • Lastly, opting for raw milk sourced from a grass-fed herd and an organic farm further enhances the quality and nutritional value of the product. By selecting raw milk that fulfills these criteria, individuals can make informed decisions that prioritize safety, hygiene, and overall quality.

How long will raw milk keep?

When appropriately stored at the recommended temperature range of 36-38°F (2.2-3.3°C), fresh raw milk can maintain its quality for approximately 7-10 days. It is crucial to note that higher temperatures can accelerate the activity of naturally occurring lactobacilli, resulting in the production of lactic acid, which imparts the characteristic tangy flavor to soured milk and diminishes its shelf life. To ensure the longevity of raw milk, especially during hot summer days or extended commutes, it is advisable to bring a cooler bag along with ice or gel packs. This precautionary measure helps maintain a cooler environment, preserving the milk’s freshness and flavor for an extended period. By employing suitable storage techniques, individuals can enjoy the full benefits and freshness of raw milk for an optimal duration.


Contact Us

For more information or to make comments and suggestions, please contact:
Kurt Olsen
Dairy Development Coordinator, Missouri Department of Agriculture
Phone: (573) 291-5704
E-mail: [email protected]