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WVU experts weigh in on safety, liabilities for raw milk sales

Paired headshots of two WVU faculty members, one male on the left wearing a tan suit, blue shirt and dark tie, and one female on the right wearing a denim jacket over a bright blue shirt. She has long, brown hair and he has receding gray hair.

Recent law changes allow for the legal sale of raw milk but two WVU experts caution farmers about the necessary safety considerations and risks associated with selling the agricultural product to the public. (WVU Graphic)

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Two West Virginia University experts are addressing raw milk sales at a time when interest is growing nationwide within a niche group of consumers and business owners.

Dee Singh-Knights, professor and agriculture economics specialist with WVU Extension in the Division for Land-Grant Engagement, and Jesse Richardson, professor at the WVU College of Law, caution farmers and others who sell raw milk about the liability associated with these sales, as well as safety for consumers.

In West Virginia, raw milk has been available for consumption since 2016 via herd-sharing programs. In June, a new state law took effect, allowing for sales of raw milk.


“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk is linked to a variety of foodborne illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against consuming raw milk due to what they assert to be a lack of scientifically proven health benefits and increased risk of food-borne illness.

“Raw milk does not go through the pasteurization process, which involves heating milk to remove pathogenic microorganisms from foods, thereby preventing disease, and to remove spoilage or souring bacteria to improve its keeping quality. Not only does pasteurization ensure safety, but it also greatly enhances the shelf life of the product. Disease-causing microorganisms including bacteria such as E. coli, listeria, salmonella and others may enter the milk during the milking process or handling of the animal, or if the animal is harboring a low-level of infection.

“Farmers selling raw milk have some responsibility to ensure things are done safely, responsibly and legally. There are several safety precautions that are recommended to reduce the risk of contamination from pathogenic microorganisms for producers willing to assume the risks of selling raw milk, including strict health, hygiene and sanitary practices for milk handlers or workers to prevent contamination and cross-contamination; regular cleaning and sanitizing of milking machinery and equipment to prevent contamination and cross-contamination; and making sure milk is refrigerated or chilled to about 38-42 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce growth of microorganisms.

“Other legal considerations for producers selling raw milk include talking to your insurance company to understand your policy coverage, including the difference between protection and liability. It’s also critical that all these products are labeled correctly so consumers know the risks associated with raw milk. Weigh the advantages with your liability risk.” — Dee Singh-Knights, professor and agricultural economics specialist, WVU Extension in the Division for Land-Grant Engagement

“Although producers in West Virginia may legally sell raw milk within the state, no insurance carrier will insure against the liability from those sales. Furthermore, the sale of raw milk voids the producer’s liability policy, meaning the producer has no insurance. The producer is then faced with the prospect of losing their farm if there is one sickness caused by the milk or any other product or an accident. The producer’s assets will be sold to settle any judgments.

“Liability waivers provide no legal defense to damages caused by consumption of raw milk. Likewise, the creation of one or more corporations, limited liability companies or other entities will not protect the producer’s assets. ‘Giving’ the milk away or taking ‘donations’ also fail to shield the producer from liability.

“Producers face a difficult choice. Raw milk sells for many times the amount that pasteurized milk can garner in the market. However, unless the producer is willing to lose the farm, raw milks sales should not be made.” Jesse Richardson, professor, WVU College of Law

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday



Director of Communications, Marketing and Technology
WVU Division for Land-Grant Engagement

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