In a July 1 letter that appeared in the Stillwater News Press titled, “Know the Facts,” Director of the Food Safety Division for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Stan Stromberg, explained the milk pasteurization process:

In the High Temperature/Short Time process, which is typically used in milk pasteurization, the milk is forced between metal plates or through pipes heated on the outside by hot water, and is heated to 161 degrees F for 15 to 20 seconds, followed by quick cooling to about 39 degrees.

This process does not add any ingredient to the milk and it certainly does not add formaldehyde, which is considered to be carcinogenic.

This process is designed to achieve a 5-log reduction, killing 99.999 percent of the viable microorganisms in milk.

Mr. Stromberg writes, “I would suggest that before anyone makes a decision to consume raw milk, they should thoroughly research this issue and make a rational decision on a scientific basis and not on an unfounded emotional basis.”

Consuming raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products made from raw milk is an established risk factor for infection with pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.  E. coli and other pathogens are shed in the feces of livestock such as cows and goats and can contaminate milk during the milking process. Although practicing standard hygiene such as washing hands and keeping equipment clean can lower the potential for contamination, pasteurization is seen as the most effective treatment for reducing the number of E. coli and other contaminants found in milk.

Licensing or certifying dairies to sell raw milk does not guarantee that a safe product will be produced. Laws regulating the sale of raw milk were passed in the early 20th century, and in what proved to be a major public health success in the United States, the percentage of all food and water-borne outbreaks attributable to milk products dropped from 25 percent in 1938 to about 1 percent by 2005. Today, it is a violation of federal law to sell raw milk packaged for consumer use across state lines (interstate commerce), but each state regulates the sale of raw milk within its own state lines (intrastate).

In Washington, all raw milk product packaging must include the following warning:  “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease have the highest risk of harm from use of this product.”  Rules for producing raw milk products in Washington are online, courtesy of the Washington Department of Agriculture.