Milk and Dairy Food Safety: Raw Milk

Raw Milk Requirements Summary

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Dairy farms that wish to bottle raw milk for public consumption may do so under certain conditions that ensure the dairy animals, the farm and the bottling facility meet all sanitary, food safety and health requirements on a continual basis. Some items are:

  • The farm must meet and maintain the sanitary requirements to obtain a Market Milk Permit.
  • The milk must be produced from nonreacting brucellosis and tuberculin tested cows or goats. Tuberculin testing must be conducted annually.
  • All farm employees who come in contact with grade A raw milk shall exercise scrupulous cleanliness and shall not be afflicted with any communicable disease or be in a condition to disseminate the germs of any communicable disease which could be conveyed by milk.
  • The bottling facility must meet the sanitary requirements of a milk products plant.
  • The milk must , at the time it is delivered to the consumer, contain no more than 15,000 bacteria per milliliter and no more than 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter.
  • The milk must, at the time of delivery to the consumer, contain a minimum of 3.5 percent milk fat and a minimum of 8.5 percent milk solids-not-fat.

The Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch (MDFS) fulfills its mission of ensuring safe and wholesome milk for consumers by inspecting the farm and bottling facility, collecting milk samples for laboratory analysis, and communicating with the dairy farmer on any issues indicated by laboratory test results.

Questions & Answers

  • Q: Is raw milk the same thing as organic milk?

    A: No. Organic requirements are not related to pasteurization. Milk plants that bottle pasteurized milk may obtain organic registration, provided the dairy meets the standards under which the milk may be labeled and/or sold as "organic." Raw milk bottlers may also choose to obtain organic registration. There is no difference in sanitary or food safety standards for milk with organic registration than for milk without that registration.

  • Q: Are requirements for raw milk more strict than for pasteurized milk?

    A: Without the protective step of pasteurization, the primary barrier between consumers and harmful bacteria that could be present in raw milk is continual and highly diligent attention to cleanliness and hygiene at both the farm and the bottling plant. The health of dairy livestock producing the milk is also critically important. Sanitary handling and proper refrigeration of raw milk must be strictly observed beginning when it is collected from the cow or goat, and continuing throughout storage, packaging, and distribution to the consumer. In addition to meeting all of the sanitary design and food safety operational requirements applicable to Grade-A dairy farms and licensed milk products plants, raw milk producers must comply with the same bacteria count limits required of pasteurized milk both at the dairy farm tank and in the final bottle when sold to the consumer (i.e., no more than 15,000 bacteria per milliliter and no more than 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter). Raw milk is also subject to monthly pathogen testing by the Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch of CDFA. The compositional requirement for milk solids-not-fat (SNF) content in the final bottle is slightly more lenient for raw whole milk (at least 8.5% SNF) than for pasteurized whole milk (at least 8.7% SNF).

  • Q: What is pasteurization?

    A: Pasteurization is the process of heating every particle of milk or milk product, using approved equipment, to a specific temperature for a specific period of time to effectively kill harmful bacteria.

  • Q: What is the difference between homogenization and pasteurization?

    A: Homogenization is a physical process that breaks up milk fat globules so the milk fat is disbursed evenly throughout the milk. Homogenized milk will prevent the formation of a cream layer at the top of a milk container. Homogenization does not kill microorganisms. Pasteurization is a heat treatment that kills pathogens, microorganisms that cause human illness.

  • Q: Is it legal to sell raw goat’s or sheep’s milk available in California?

    A: Yes, provided that it is produced and bottled by a facility that meets all sanitation standards and licensing requirements in state law and regulations.