NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., May 3 – Mrs Khan does what many may consider irresponsible parenting.
Every morning, she whips out three glasses from her cupboard and fills them to the top with unpasteurized milk.
One glass is for her, and the other two are for her 3- and 4-year-old daughters.
It is the only milk her youngest daughter, Zahrah, is able to tolerate.
“If she drinks regular, pasteurized milk, she throws up,” said Khan. “She can’t keep any of that stuff down.”
Unpasteurized milk, also known as raw milk, has been a topic of debate for some time now.
Because it is illegal for sale in New Jersey, many New Jersey residents, like Khan, go out
of their way to travel to New York or Pennsylvania where unpasteurized milk is permitted to be sold.
Proponents of raw milk praise it for its nutritional benefits, while adversaries warn it may be infested with harmful bacteria.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared anything containing unpasteurized milk unsafe to consume.
“Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family,” said the FDA.
The FDA cited a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which founded that between 1993 and 2006, more than 1,500 people in the U.S. became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk.
“That kind of makes me unsure about raw milk,” said Rutgers University junior Alyson Escalona. “I don’t think I would want to take the risk.”
But any food can make you sick, argues a soil scientist at Rutgers University, Dr. Joseph Heckman.
“There is no food that is perfectly safe,” said Heckman. “The assumption is made that the pasteurization process is done to guarantee safety, but the fact is, well-recorded in scientific record, that people have gotten sick and died from pasteurized milk.”
In 2007, as reported by the Journal of American Medical Association, three men in Massachusetts died from Listeria which came from pasteurized milk.
There was an outbreak in the 1980s, as well, in which over 160,000 became sick with salmonella from pasteurized milk. Since then, there have been at least 40 outbreaks caused by pasteurized milk over the decades , said Heckman.
That is not to say that some individuals do not get sick from raw milk, but it is a fact that
the numbers of individuals getting sick due to raw milk consumption have not been as high as the numbers of individuals getting sick from the consumption of pasteurized milk, said Heckman.
It might also be noteworthy to add in that no one has ever died of drinking raw milk in the last few decades, either.
“Sometimes people do get sick by raw milk but it has to do with how it is produced,” said
Heckman. “If it is carefully produced, it has a pretty darn good safety record.”
Pasteurization, applauded as one the greatest achievements by the food industry, was
essential in the 18th century when the U.S. did not have the safety procedures and the technology to ensure the production of safe milk
“Pasteurization was developed as a solution for an old problem that we have moved far
beyond,” said Heckman. “At one time there were cows that were sickly, people milking by hand,
sneezing in milk buckets, and there was no refrigeration.”
Mechanical milkers, refrigeration, good sanitary practices, and knowing how to check for
pathogens have been advancements in the public health arena to ensure the production of clean
If raw milk, intended for human consumption, is just as safe as pasteurized milk, why
then single out raw milk and the risks associated with it?
“Because they want to make money off of your fears,” said Rumana Abbasi.
Abbasi, a N.J. resident, has been purchasing raw milk from New York since December 2012.
“Raw milk is as safe as pasteurized milk if the farmer produces it carefully,” said Abbasi.
“And it’s better for you, too.”
Studies have shown benefits in raw milk, such preventing asthma and allergies, that cannot be found in pasteurized milk.
Khan claims her youngest daughter used to suffer from eczema, but it went away after switching to raw milk.
“Zahrah’s eczema went away with raw milk. That is to say, raw milk caused her eczema to go away,” said Khan. “I firmly believe that.”
Khan says she won’t be turning back to pasteurized milk anytime soon, and will continue to make those drives out-of-state every week to get raw milk.
But that brings up a larger issue: how long will New Jersey residents continue going to other states to buy raw milk?
Should we not be allowed to choose the foods we wish to consume?
Many nations, and many states within the U.S., give people the choice of buying pasteurized milk or raw milk, but not New Jersey.
Heckman hopes for Jersey residents to one day be given the choice to buy pasteurized milk or raw milk, without having to go to great lengths such as driving out-of-state every weekend.
“I’m not an advocate for raw milk,” said Heckman. “I’m an advocate for informed choice. I just want people to have the choice and I want them to make a well-informed choice.”
(Written by a friend)