Tis’ The Season of Raw Milk and Cream Back »

Written by Joan Hegerfeld-Baker (former SDSU Extension Food Safety Specialist).


Consumers may seek out milk and cream fresh from the farm that has not been pasteurized or homogenized for many types of holiday dishes their family has enjoyed for years. Several of these dishes have a cooking step that brings the food to a temperature that will destroy the pathogens that may be present in raw milk.

However, raw milk products that do not have an adequate cooking step pose a risk of harboring pathogens that may be present in the milk. Examples of these types of foods include certain cheeses, homemade ice cream, hollandaise sauce, frostings, yogurt, eggnog and other types of beverages such as homemade Irish cream. When these types or foods are made with raw milk, they pose severe health risks. Raw milk and cream require minimal processing, called pasteurization, which can be done by heating the milk briefly to 161°F for about 20 seconds to kill disease-causing germs (e.g., Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter) that can be found in raw milk.

Homogenization is the process of breaking up the fat cells of milk, so they stay dispersed throughout the milk product. Some consumers prefer milk that is not homogenized based on taste preferences or perceived health benefits. Non-homogenized milk is not a health risk like that of non-pasteurized milk.

If drinking or using raw cream or milk in your food products that are not cooked to an internal temperature of at least 161°F, pasteurize the milk first on your stove-top. It is very easy to do by following the step-by-step process described below.

1. Gather the following equipment and supplies:

  • Double boiler (or a small pan that can be placed inside of a larger pan)
  • Stirring spoon
  • Thermometer: dial instant read (often referred to as a meat thermometer), candy, digital or temperature-probe.
  • Clean sink basin (or container) to set the sauce pan of milk into
  • Cold water and ice
  • Raw Milk or Raw Cream

2. Heat the raw milk or cream using a double boiler or place a small saucepan inside a large pan.

  • Fill the bottom pan with water and bring it to a boil.

  • Pour the raw milk or cream into the top pan and heat it over the boiling water stirring constantly.
  • Use a dial instant read thermometer to determine when the temperature reaches 161°F. Maintain this temperature for 20 seconds. (A candy thermometer or temperature probe can also be used.)

3. Immediately set the pan of hot milk into a container of cold water – continually adding ice to the water.

  • This will stop the cooking process and keep the milk from having a cooked flavor.
  • When the milk has cooled, transfer to a container that has been thoroughly cleaned, label as pasteurized and store in the refrigerator.

Recipes with Raw (Uncooked) Eggs

Uncooked eggs may naturally have pathogens (such as Salmonella) present that can cause severe illness. When using recipes with raw eggs (such as eggnog or homemade ice cream), use pasteurized eggs, or refer to the SDSU Extension iGrow article Egg Safety with Holiday Foods for tips on making these types of recipes safe.

Using a Dial Instant Read Thermometer

All thermometers have a sensory area. Dial instant read thermometers should be immersed 2 to 2 ½ inches into the food to allow for the sensory area to accurately measure the food’s temperature. Carefully examine the stem of the thermometer for a small dimple to identify the immersion point (approximately 2 inches from the tip). Do not let the tip of the thermometer set on the bottom or sides of the pan.

Additional Resources

Refer to the Centers for Disease Control webpage for more information on the serious health risks associated with the consumption of raw milk.

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