Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Raw Cheese Bad For You?

Also Known As: Unpasteurized cheese



Short answer

While raw cheese has a rich nutritional profile and potential health benefits like probiotics, higher bioavailability of certain vitamins, and support for bone health, there are legitimate safety concerns. Risks include bacterial contamination with pathogens like Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella, which can cause severe illnesses. The impact on lactose intolerance varies by individual and cheese type. Regulatory oversight like mandatory aging can reduce but not eliminate these risks. Ultimately, raw cheese can be part of a balanced diet if sourced responsibly and consumed with caution, especially among vulnerable populations.



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Long answer

Raw Cheese Nutritional Profile and Potential Benefits

Raw cheese, which is made from unpasteurized milk, presents an intriguing nutritional profile that may offer several health benefits. However, it's crucial to navigate these waters with a clear understanding of both the rewards and possible risks associated with consuming raw cheese.

Nutritional Profile:

Raw cheese is rich in vital nutrients that are essential for maintaining good health. Here is a breakdown of the key nutritional elements found in raw cheese and how they contribute to your overall diet:

  • Protein: Raw cheese is a good source of high-quality protein, which is vital for muscle repair, enzyme production, and immune function.
  • Fats: It contains both saturated and unsaturated fats that are important for cellular health and hormone production.
  • Calcium: As a dairy product, raw cheese is naturally high in calcium, crucial for bone health and nerve function.
  • Vitamins: It boasts a variety of vitamins, including fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, which support vision, bone health, and cardiovascular health, respectively.
  • Minerals: Raw cheese provides essential minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus, necessary for metabolic processes and maintaining structural integrity of the bones.
  • Probiotics: Because it is unpasteurized, raw cheese can be rich in probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that promote gut health, though the types and amounts can vary widely.

Potential Benefits:

The unique composition of raw cheese might translate into health advantages, some of which are supported by current scientific research:

  • Enhanced Nutrient Absorption: The live enzymes present in raw cheese may aid in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
  • Bioavailability of Vitamins: Studies suggest that the vitamins in raw dairy can be more bioavailable compared to their pasteurized counterparts, meaning they may be more efficiently utilized by the body (Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 2013).
  • Natural Probiotic Source: The probiotic content in raw cheese can foster a healthy gut microbiome, potentially improving digestive health and boosting the immune system (Journal of Applied Microbiology, 2006).
  • Supports Bone Density: The high calcium and vitamin K2 content in raw cheese can play a role in maintaining strong bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (Osteoporosis International, 2013).

Despite the appealing nutritional benefits, consuming raw cheese comes with a caveat due to the potential presence of harmful bacteria. This risk must be weighed against the potential health advantages it offers. When choosing to incorporate raw cheese into your diet, it's essential to consider the source and quality of the cheese, as well as your personal health history and susceptibilities.

Remember, while studies can point to general trends and findings, individual needs and reactions can vary greatly. It’s advisable to consume raw cheese in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. For those who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or have certain health conditions, consulting with a healthcare provider before adding raw cheese to the diet is strongly recommended.

Bacterial Risk in Raw Cheese: Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella

Raw cheese, made from unpasteurized milk, is a much-debated food product due to the presence of natural flora which can be both beneficial and harmful. While many cheese enthusiasts praise the complexity of flavors that raw cheese offers, one cannot ignore the potential risks posed by harmful bacteria. The bacterial concerns primarily involve Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Salmonella spp., which can be present in unpasteurized milk. Let's delve into each of these concerns:

Listeria Monocytogenes:

Often simply referred to as Listeria, this bacterium can cause listeriosis, a serious infection that can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, elderly individuals, and those with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis can lead to severe complications such as meningitis and septicemia, and in pregnant women, it may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the estimated number of people who become seriously ill with listeriosis in the United States each year is about 1,600, with about 260 cases being fatal.

Escherichia Coli (E. coli):

While most strains of E. coli are harmless and are indeed part of the normal flora in the human gut, certain strains, like E. coli O157:H7, can cause serious foodborne illness. Symptoms range from mild diarrhea to severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, and even kidney failure in some cases. The severity of the disease can lead to hospitalization and sometimes has long-term consequences or even death. Studies, including those published in the Journal of Food Protection, have associated these harmful E. coli strains with unpasteurized dairy products.


Salmonella is another type of bacteria that can be transmitted through raw cheeses. It can cause salmonellosis, an infection that can manifest as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. In healthy adults, the symptoms might be mild, but they can become severe in young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. The illness can last for days and can lead to more serious conditions if the bacteria spread beyond the intestines.

It's of utmost importance to consider these bacterial risks when choosing to consume raw cheeses. As foodborne bacteria can cause significant health problems, consumers should weigh the benefits against the potential risks. Regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have enacted measures and regulations to minimize these risks, such as aging raw cheese for 60 days or more to reduce the levels of harmful bacteria. However, this aging process is not a fail-safe method, and some pathogens can survive and even thrive during this period.

For those who are at higher risk of foodborne illnesses or who wish to minimize their risk, opting for pasteurized cheese products is the safer alternative. In summary, while the risks are present, mindful handling, vigilant agricultural practices, and informed consumer choices can help mitigate the dangers associated with bacterial contamination in raw cheeses.

Raw Cheese and Lactose Intolerance: Friend or Foe?

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. When someone with lactose intolerance consumes lactose, they often experience symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It may appear that all dairy products would be off-limits for those with this condition; however, raw cheese presents a unique case that merits closer examination.

During the fermentation of cheese, bacteria are used to break down the lactose into lactic acid. This is particularly true for aged cheeses, which have a naturally lower lactose content compared to fresh cheeses. Raw cheese is made from unpasteurized milk and is often aged, which can result in a product with reduced lactose levels.

However, the extent of lactose reduction varies widely among different types of cheese, and individual responses to lactose can also differ greatly. Thus, raw cheese may be more tolerable for some people with lactose intolerance but still problematic for others. Here's a closer look at the factors to consider:

  • Aging Process: Aged raw cheeses have a longer fermentation period during which more lactose is broken down. Cheeses aged for several months are likely to contain only trace amounts of lactose.
  • Individual Tolerance: Some people with lactose intolerance can handle small amounts of lactose, while others react to even the slightest presence. This personal threshold will determine whether someone can enjoy raw cheese without issues.
  • Type of Cheese: Hard cheeses, such as Parmesan and aged Cheddars, typically have much lower lactose content compared to soft, fresh cheeses like Mozzarella.
  • Enzyme Presence: Raw cheese retains its natural enzymes, which are often destroyed in pasteurized cheeses. These enzymes may aid in digestion and potentially help some individuals break down lactose more effectively.

A 2006 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reported that aging cheese reduces its lactose content, sometimes significantly, which may account for the observation that aged cheese is better tolerated by people with lactose malabsorption. Still, there is variation based on the specific cheese and its manufacturing process.

When considering the consumption of raw cheese by those with lactose intolerance, it is important to start with small quantities to assess tolerance. Nutrition labels and consultations with a dietary professional can help in selecting cheeses that are more likely to be low in lactose. Remember, safety is paramount when it comes to raw dairy due to the risk of foodborne illness from pathogens, which can be a greater concern for individuals with compromised immune systems or certain health conditions.

In conclusion, raw cheese can be a friend to some with lactose intolerance, mostly when aged and consumed in moderation. Consumers should heed their personal lactose threshold and opt for types of raw cheese known for lower lactose content. They should also consider the potential risks associated with unpasteurized milk products and make an informed decision in consultation with their healthcare provider.

Aging Process of Raw Cheese and Its Safety

When exploring the safety of consuming raw cheese, it is essential to consider the aging process, as it plays a significant role in both the flavor development and the elimination of harmful pathogens. Raw cheese is made from unpasteurized milk, which means it hasn't been heated to a temperature that kills bacteria. As such, the aging process becomes a critical step in ensuring the cheese is safe to consume.

Time and Temperature

The aging process, also known as affinage, involves storing cheese under specific conditions of temperature and humidity for a period that can range from just a few weeks to several years. The FDA regulations stipulate that raw cheese must be aged for a minimum of 60 days at a temperature not less than 35°F (1.7°C) to qualify as safe for consumption. This is based on the premise that potentially harmful pathogens, such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, are not likely to survive beyond this period in an acidic and low-moisture environment.

Beneficial Microbes and Pathogen Die-Off

During aging, beneficial bacteria in the cheese mature and produce acids that typically lower the pH level, creating an inhospitable environment for pathogenic microbes. Studies have shown that these good bacteria can actually inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. A Journal of Food Protection study indicated that certain strains of lactic acid bacteria found in aged cheese possess bacteriocins, substances that are lethal to pathogens.

Chemical Changes Enhancing Safety

As cheese ages, several chemical changes occur due to enzyme activity. These enzymes, originating both from the milk and from the cultures added during the cheesemaking process, break down the fats and proteins. This not only contributes to the development of rich flavors and textures but also to the breakdown of potential allergens and the reduction of lactose content, making aged cheese potentially safer for those with mild lactose intolerance. Importantly, these changes can also decrease the viability of harmful bacteria.

Variability Among Cheese Types

Different types of raw cheeses undergo unique aging processes and thus present variable levels of safety risk. For example, hard cheeses like Parmesan are aged significantly longer than the 60-day minimum, which can further reduce the likelihood of containing harmful bacteria. In contrast, softer cheeses have more moisture and may present a higher risk if not aged or handled properly.

Regulatory Oversight and Artisanal Practices

The safety of the aging process is also subject to regulatory oversight, which includes stringent sanitary standards for raw cheese producers. Artisanal cheesemakers monitor the aging process meticulously, adjusting temperature and humidity controls to ensure the cheese ripens safely and develops the desired quality.

Expert Opinions on Aging Safety

Nutrition and food safety experts confirm that when done correctly, the aging process of raw cheese can render it safe for most healthy individuals. It is, however, always recommended for vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, to avoid raw cheese to minimize any risk of foodborne illness.

While the aging process of raw cheese can be instrumental in promoting safety and enhancing flavor, consumers should always purchase from reputable sources and remain informed about any recalls or safety alerts pertaining to raw cheese products.

Comparing Raw vs. Pasteurized Cheese: Health Implications

When examining the health implications of raw versus pasteurized cheese, it's essential to understand the core differences between the two. Pasteurization is a process that heats milk to a specific temperature for a set period to kill harmful bacteria. Raw cheese, by contrast, is made from milk that has not been pasteurized. Each type of cheese carries its own set of potential health benefits and risks.

Beneficial Bacteria and Enzymes
Raw cheese is celebrated for its natural microflora, which includes beneficial bacteria and enzymes that can aid in digestion and contribute to gut health. These probiotics are often destroyed during pasteurization. However, the presence of these microorganisms is a double-edged sword as it also allows for the potential proliferation of harmful bacteria.

Nutritional Content
Some studies suggest that raw cheese might retain more of its natural nutrients. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology indicates that vitamins and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus are more readily available in raw cheese. Conversely, pasteurized cheese often has a more consistent nutrient profile due to the controlled manufacturing process.

Immune System Impact
Proponents of raw cheese argue that it can boost the immune system due to its natural bacterial content. The idea is that exposure to these bacteria can train the immune system to deal with pathogens more effectively. Yet, without pasteurization, there is also an increased risk of consuming harmful bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli, which can lead to severe illnesses.

Flavor and Aroma
While not directly related to health implications, the flavor and aroma profile of cheese can influence consumer preference, which has indirect health effects. Raw cheeses are often more complex and varied in taste, as pasteurization can dull some of the natural flavors inherent in the milk used for cheesemaking.

Regulatory Standards and Safety
Most health authorities, including the FDA and CDC, suggest that the risks of consuming raw cheese can outweigh the benefits, particularly for pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems. They enforce regulations such as the 60-day aging rule for raw milk cheeses in the United States, which are thought to reduce bacterial risks. It's important for consumers to be aware of these guidelines and to make informed choices.

Risk of Foodborne Illness
The primary health concern with raw cheese involves the risk of foodborne illness. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spanning 13 years showed that unpasteurized dairy is 840 times more likely to cause foodborne illness than pasteurized products. As such, individuals must consider their own health and risk factors when choosing to consume raw cheese.

In summary, the choice between raw and pasteurized cheese involves a balance between enjoying natural microflora and flavors and the potential health risks from pathogens. Each individual should weigh personal health concerns, preferences, and available cheese options, along with considering regulatory guidelines and scientific evidence when making their decision.

Guidelines for Safe Consumption of Raw Cheese

Consuming raw cheese, which is cheese that has not been pasteurized to kill bacteria, can be a delightful experience for many cheese connoisseurs. However, it is essential to follow specific guidelines to ensure safe consumption:

1. Know the Source: Ensure that the raw cheese you're purchasing comes from a reputable producer. It's crucial that the dairy farm maintains high standards of hygiene, and the cheese is produced under strict quality control measures.

2. Check Local Regulations: Be aware of your country's guidelines on raw milk products. Some countries have strict regulations or may even ban the sale of raw cheese due to health risks.

3. Read Labeling Carefully: Look for labels that clearly state the cheese is made from raw milk. Labels should also provide information about the cheese such as age; raw cheeses aged for 60 days or more at a temperature of 35°F or above are generally considered safer, as aging can reduce the risk of harmful bacteria contamination.

4. Storage Tips: Store raw cheese in your refrigerator at a temperature below 40°F. Proper storage is essential to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

5. Observe Hygiene: Always use clean utensils when handling raw cheese to prevent cross-contamination from other foods.

6. Pay Attention to At-Risk Groups: Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems should avoid raw cheese due to a higher susceptibility to bacterial infections like listeriosis.

7. Trust Your Senses: If something about the cheese seems off — such as an unusual smell, taste, or appearance — it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid consumption.

8. Educate Yourself: Understand the risks associated with consuming raw cheese, which can include exposure to bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli.

9. Moderate Intake: Even for those without any specific health risks, it's wise to moderate the consumption of raw cheese as part of a balanced diet.

10. Monitor Health: If you experience symptoms like severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, or vomiting after consuming raw cheese, seeking medical attention promptly is advisable.

By adhering to these guidelines, cheese enthusiasts can continue to enjoy raw cheese while minimizing potential health risks. It's always important to remain informed about and responsive to the latest scientific research and recommendations from health authorities concerning the consumption of raw dairy products.

For those interested in delving deeper into the subject, studying the research performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can provide further insights into the raw cheese consumption risks and guidelines for safe practices.

Frequently asked questions

The 60-day aging rule at a temperature of 35°F or higher is a standard safety guideline for raw cheeses. However, hard cheeses like Parmesan are typically aged for much longer, which further decreases the likelihood of harmful bacteria being present. Nonetheless, consistency in safety practices is essential, and no raw cheese should be assumed completely safe without proper aging and handling.

Raw cheese contains natural enzymes and probiotics which can aid in digestion and contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. For some individuals, these beneficial bacteria can improve digestive health, but the effect can vary from person to person. It's important to weigh these potential benefits against the risks of consuming unpasteurized products, particularly in individuals with digestive sensitivities or compromised immune systems.

Inspect your raw cheese for signs of spoilage like an abnormal smell, taste, or appearance. If you notice any peculiarities, it's safest to dispose of the cheese. Proper storage in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40°F and using clean utensils can help maintain its quality and safety.

Raw cheese may contain harmful bacteria that can be especially dangerous to young children whose immune systems are still developing. Health authorities generally recommend that children, along with other vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and the elderly, avoid consuming raw cheese to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

Ask a question about Raw Cheese and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • fever
  • vomiting

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of foodborne illness
  • kidney failure
  • severe complications like meningitis and septicemia
  • osteoporosis (with inadequate consumption)

Ingredients to be aware of

  • saturated fats
  • listeria
  • e. coli
  • salmonella


  • high-quality protein
  • rich in calcium
  • contains vital vitamins a, d, and k2
  • sources of zinc, magnesium, phosphorus
  • probiotic benefits
  • enhanced nutrient absorption
  • supports bone density

Healthier alternatives

  • aged cheese (60+ days)
  • hard cheeses with lower lactose content
  • pasteurized dairy products

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Organic Valley Cheese

  • Grass-fed dairy
  • Raw Sharp Cheddar
  • Organic certified
  • Rich in nutrients
  • 8 oz cheese block
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-14-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-14-2024

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