"I am afraid to buy something raw from people I do not know who do not have to adhere to standards. Is that a valid concern?"
The short answer is YES!
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't consume ANY raw milk products. Making the decision to switch to non-pasteurized milk just isn't that simple. And if you're considering such a change, you should be a responsible consumer, do some homework, and make an informed decision that you can live with comfortably.
Obviously, as far as raw milk is concerned, it MUST be handled properly. If you can meet the farmer, take an educational tour of his barn, see his herd for noticeable evidence of good health, and perhaps watch him milk, then you can make a fairly well informed decision. All equipment should be kept in pristine condition, udders thoroughly washed before each milking, and the actual milk should be filtered for small particles such as hair. Finally, the milk should be chilled right away.
Seeing first hand how the farmer operates is not always possible, in which case you might need to do some quiet investigating among friends or acquaintances who use the dairy and find out what they know about their sanitations standards. But be careful so as not to draw attention to the farmer. If you think the government's happy about all this raw milk love, think again. Even where it's legal, raw milk dairies are not looked upon favorably by the government or "establishment" and often there is suspicion and an eye toward finding fault with them in order to shut down their operation.
There's also a few websites and blogs specifically set up to convince people NOT to consume raw milk, which include examples of individuals getting sick from raw milk products. But what they fail to mention is the fact that there's just as many or MORE cases of individuals getting sick from pasteurized products.
Cooking a product to death does not make it healthier for you. Nor does it mean that once it is sterile, it will remain so. There is a huge misconception that "pasteurized" means it can't be contaminated. Since nothing "living" remains in the milk, there is none of the good bacteria to fight any of the bad bacteria that might start growing in the milk after pasteurization has occurred, which is why it's a must be handled carefully and refrigerated at all times.
"In what microbiologists call the principal of Competitive Exclusion, non-pathogenic bacteria like, say, Lactococcus lactis, can actually limit or kill bad bugs like Listeria monocytogenes, responsible for hundreds of illnesses yearly (2)."
The natural lactic acid in raw milk actually helps keep the good and bad bacteria in balance! God planned it perfectly. So it's usually not the milk that is the issue (unless the animal is sick), but rather how it is handled afterward. But to our modern minds, we have difficulty thinking outside the "refrigerated" box on this one! Consider the fact that people consumed raw milk for thousands of years before refrigeration methods were common place or before Louise Pasteur ever taught them how to pasteurize it. Sure some got sick, but it wasn't until the 19th century that things got out of hand and it became a huge health issue. (See my post Raw Milk: An Introduction and Brief History).
I'd be the first to agree that there was a problem with milk during the late 1800's and children in particular were dying from a bad product, but the solution wasn't necessarily the correct one. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, which was bad animal husbandry practices, the government opted to just kill all the bacteria in milk altogether. (Of course, they had to "fix" the milk by adding stuff back in as well, but we never will make a product as good as the one God originally designed).
Since the government didn't require large milk producers to change their bad habits (which is what created the problem to begin with) many animals being milked for commercial purposes STILL continue to be kept in less than sanitary conditions (relatively speaking since we're dealing with animals). To make matters worse, they are fed a diet that is not natural to their God-ordained design, and must be given antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria in order to keep the milk safe. This is exactly why pasteurization is so appealing and necessary... it kills bad bacteria that enter the milk which is usually due to bad animal husbandry practices!
Am I making a clear case here... that pasteurization would not be necessary if the cows and milk were handled properly according to God's design? And so we come back around to the beginning again... you need to either know your farmer or milk your own. But raw milk in and of itself is a great food!
So it becomes a question of who are you going to trust? The farmer who willingly shows you his operation and encourages questions to educate the public OR the nanny state that would like to keep you on the proverbial bottle telling you not to ask questions, but to just trust them because they are the only ones who are capable of making a "safe" product and wise enough to make such a decision?
(A final note for clarification: I do not believe that all conventional dairy farmers are evil and practice bad animal husbandry. Nor do I believe all raw organic farmers are good and take care of their herds. My point is it's easier to know a local dairy farmer than one three states away and the choice ought to be each individual's decision, not the government's.)
Since most people feel very strongly about this topic, I want to encourage comments, but I ask that you please keep Ephesians 4:29 in mind when you do...
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."