Raw-milk cheeses

Cheeses made from raw (unpasteurised) milk can contain harmful bacteria. Learn about the risks and get advice on how to handle these products.

Dangers of raw milk

Raw milk from any animal can have Shiga toxin containing E. coli (STEC), Listeria or Campylobacter. Most commonly, this can cause severe gastrointestinal illness but it has also been linked with tuberculosis, paralysis, serious kidney problems in children, and brain problems in the elderly.

Despite these risks, there are people in city and country areas who choose to consume raw milk. In 2014, this led to 10 outbreaks of illness.

  • 41 people affected.
  • 9 of the 10 outbreaks involved children under 15 years old (6 involved young children, aged 2 or younger).
  • 2 children developed Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) – a severe complication of STEC infection that includes kidney failure.

What are raw-milk cheeses?

Most cheeses in New Zealand are made from pasteurised milk, but a small number of varieties aren't. Using unpasteurised (raw) milk may give the cheese a distinctive flavour but it also means the cheese could contain harmful bacteria.

Soft raw-milk cheeses, such as unpasteurised brie and camembert, are the most likely to carry harmful bacteria. These cheeses are produced under strict processing criteria to keep them as safe as possible, but the risks can't be eliminated.

People at greatest risk from raw-milk cheese

Raw-milk cheese is a risky food for anybody who consumes it but some groups of people are especially vulnerable, including:

  • young children and babies
  • the elderly
  • pregnant women
  • people with a weakened immune system.

The immune system can be weakened by surgery, certain medications, and long-term (chronic) illnesses.

Identifying raw-milk cheese

Read the label carefully before buying cheese. If it says 'raw' or 'unpasteurised,' you know it's made from raw milk. If unsure, ask shop staff.

If you're at a restaurant, ask the waiting staff.

Keeping and handling raw-milk cheese

If you choose to buy and serve raw-milk cheese, take care how you store and handle it.

  • Buy your cheese from a reputable supplier.
  • Keep the cheese wrapped in your fridge and separate from other ready-to-eat foods.
  • Make sure your fridge is between 2 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees Celsius.
  • Use separate knives and chopping boards for the cheese.
  • Discard the cheese on its use-by date.
  • Don't leave it at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Follow instructions on the label.

Who to contact

If you have questions about food safety, email info@mpi.govt.nz.

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