Raw milk is not pasteurised, which means it misses out on an important process that kills disease-causing bacteria. Learn how to manage health risks associated with the product.
Raw unpasteurised milk from any animal may be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria including shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Listeria and Campylobacter. These bacteria most commonly cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting, but occasionally some have been linked with more serious complications that include miscarriage, paralysis, meningitis, and serious kidney problems in children.
Raw milk may also be a source of tuberculosis (Tb).
Between 2009 and 2016 there were 46 outbreaks of illness where consuming raw milk was a risk factor. Of these:
- At least 70% involved children, ranging in age from 1 year to 16 years
- 28 were caused by Campylobacter and 4 by STEC.
In 2015 there were 4 outbreaks:
- All involved children under 16 years old
- 3 outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter and 1 by Cryptosporidium
- 5 children and 1 elderly patient were hospitalised with STEC infection
- 1 child and 1 elderly patient developed serious life-threatening complications
In 2016 there were 5 outbreaks:
- All involved children under 16 years old
- 4 outbreaks were caused by Campylobacter and 1 by STEC
- 4 children and 1 elderly patient were hospitalised with STEC infection
- 1 child developed serious life-threatening complications
MPI has developed an infographic: Raw drinking milk: What you need to know to help you understand how to manage the risks associated with drinking raw unpasteurised milk.
Download the infographic [PDF, 214 KB]
People at greatest risk from raw milk
Raw unpasteurised milk 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 illnesses.
To reduce your risk of getting sick
We respect your choice to drink raw unpasteurised milk, but we recommend the following to reduce the risk of getting sick:
- Keep it chilled whilst transporting it home from the farm.
- Keep your raw milk in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the lower levels are 4 degrees Celsius or less).
- Throw it out if it's been left out for 2 or more hours.
- When you want to drink your raw milk, heat it until just boiling (or to 70 degrees Celsius for one minute) before drinking it.
- Drink it by its use-by date.
- If you're serving raw milk to friends or visitors, make sure you let them know what the risks are.
- Buy it only from a registered supplier. From 1 November 2016 producers who sell raw unpasteurised milk will need to be registered with MPI. The lists of registered suppliers will be updated as providers are approved.
Video – Reduce your risk of getting sick (3:14)
[We see a woman, Tess, driving a car. She drives it down a rural driveway, parks it and turns to the camera.]
"Are you someone who chooses to drink raw unpasteurized milk?
Whether it is a lifestyle or wellbeing choice, or simply you prefer the taste, there are some risks involved.”
[Tess gets out of the car and speaks to the camera.]
"Because raw milk has not been pasteurized, that is heat treated, to kill harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, Listeria and toxic strains of E. Coli called STECs, you may get sick from drinking it.”
[Tess walks to the boot of the car, opens it and picks up a chilly bin. She turns and talks to camera. As she talks cartoon images of a pregnant woman, a young child and an elderly lady appear onscreen beside her]
"Pregnant women, young children – especially babies, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk.”
[Tess closes the boot of the car and walks of camera.]
[A graphic appearson screen with the text: Raw Unpasteurised Milk: What you need to know]
[Tess is in the kitchen and places the chilly bin on the kitchen bench. She speaks to camera.]
"There are three simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting sick from the harmful bacteria and to help protect your friends and family when drinking raw unpasteurized milk.”
[On screen graphic: Step 1]
"The first is to keep the milk in the fridge at all times.”
[Tess opens the chilly bin and takes out 2 bottles of milk. She then goes to the fridge, opens it and puts the milk on the lower level of the fridge. While she does this she talks to camera.]
"The best place is on the lower level of the fridge where it is the coldest. This will reduce the risk of harmful bugs growing in the milk.”
[We see a timelapse shot of a bottle of milk left on the kitchen bench. A timer in the upper right corner of the screen counts to 2 hours. Once it has reached 2 hours Tess picks up the milk and speaks to camera.]
"You should throw out your raw milk if it has been left out on the bench for more than 2 hours.”
[On screen graphic: Step 2]
[Tess is at the kitchen bench. She is pouring milk into a red saucepan. She speaks to camera.]
"The second is, before drinking it, heat the milk until it just starts to boil…”
[Tess puts the saucepan on the stove and heats the milk. We see it start to boil.]
"…or, if you have a thermometer heat it to 70 degrees Celsius for one minute before drinking it.”
[Tess puts a thermometre in the milk. It measures 70 degrees celsius. A sped up timer on the side of the screen measures 60 seconds. Tess takes the milk off the stove.]
"Doing this will greatly reduce the number of potentially harmful bacteria present in the milk.”
[On screen graphic: Step 3]
[Tess takes some milk from the lower level of the fridge and checks its use-by-date.]
"And the third, of course, make sure you drink your milk by its use-by-date.”
[Tess is pouring the milk into 3 glasses]
"Also, if you offer raw unpasteurized milk to friends or visitors, make sure you let them know what the risks are.”
[On screen graphic: New rules to make things safer]
[Tess is doing the dishes. She talks to camera]
"New safety rules have been introduced to help farmers and suppliers manage the risks associated with raw unpasteurized milk.
From 1 November 2016, you will only be able to get it at the farm gate and from home deliveries. There will no longer be collection points.
If you buy at the farm make sure you provide your contact details. This way you can be contacted if milk testing identifies any problems.”
[We see two bottles of milk being put in a chilly bin.]
"Make sure you keep your milk chilled whilst transporting it home.
Once you get it home follow the three simple steps to help ensure you don’t get sick:”
[We see milk being placed on the lower level of a fridge with on screen text matching the spoken text.]
"Step 1: Store your milk in the coldest part of your fridge (the lower level)”
[We see milk being heated with on screen text matching the spoken text.]
"Step 2: Before drinking it heat your milk until just boiling or, if you have a thermometer…”
[We see milk being heated using a thermometer with on screen text matching the spoken text.]
"…heat it to 70 degrees Celsius for 1 minute.”
[Tess speaking to camera with matching on screen text.]
"Step 3: drink it before its use-by-date.”
[Tess speaking to camera.]
"To find out more about who how to stay safe, the new rules, or even who is registered to sell raw unpasteurized milk, please visit the Ministry for Primary Industries website.”
[On screen graphic: www.mpi.govt.nz/rawmilk ]
[End of transcript]
Nutrition – pasteurised versus non-pasteurised
There's no substantial scientific evidence to suggest raw milk offers any health benefits over pasteurised milk.
The MPI assessment reviewed by the Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor concluded "the claimed health benefits of raw milk compared with pasteurised milk are, for the most part, not backed by scientific evidence".
Download the assessment [PDF, 340 KB]
Can I get risk-free raw milk?
No – you can't. Potentially harmful bacteria live in the gut of many healthy animals and are consequently everywhere on farms. They can dwell on clean-looking surfaces, such as milking cups, and spread from there to the milk.
While the best production and processing practices will reduce the health risks to consumers, they can't remove them completely. There's no easy way to tell if raw milk is carrying bacteria. It has to be analysed in the laboratory.
Regulations changed in 2016
From March 1 2016, regulations were introduced that required registered farmers to sell raw milk directly from the farm gate or by home delivery. Collection points are no longer allowed. Customers buying raw milk are asked to supply their contact details, so they can be reached if a batch of milk fails hygiene or pathogen testing.
Who to contact
If you have questions about raw milk, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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For urgent problems, call 0800 00 83 33 (NZ only)