Milk Pasteurization Explained

Let’s talk about pasteurization.

Pasteurization is the simple practice of heating milk to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. There are several different formulas of temperature and time, but the desired result is the same for all of them.

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The goal of pasteurization is to destroy harmful pathogens in your dairy products. It was developed in the mid 1800’s and strongly implemented across America in the early 1900’s. This was around the time where society became more modernized and the vast majority of the population moved off the farm and into the city. This move to the city meant that most consumers were no longer exposed to farm animal germs on a day to day basis, so their immune systems weren’t prepared to fight them.

Today there are so many rumors, misconceptions, and flat out lies surfacing on the Internet about milk, and we need to address them.

First of all, pasteurization does not actually sterilize your dairy products. The milk would have to be boiled to accomplish complete sterilization, and there is no need for that. Pathogens can be killed at much lower temperatures, which results in a safe, but still nutritious product.

An issue with some formulas of pasteurization is that they can denature some vitamins. But even raw milk isn’t a great source of vitamins. In fact, dairy products generally need to be consumed along with Vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption. There naturally isn’t much Vitamin D in milk, so that is why it’s commonly added to milk after pasteurization. A well rounded diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a much better way to get your vitamins. Pasteurization leaves the natural protein, calcium, fat, and sugar fully intact and available for your body to digest.

Some have claimed that raw milk naturally contains mechanisms to fight off pathogens. They are correct, milk does in fact contain immune cells, called somatic cells, that are vital to keeping the milk safe and healthy. Unfortunately for us these cells are part of the cow’s immune system and they offer no protection after the milk has left the cow’s udder. The reality is that contaminated raw milk in a bottle is actually a perfect place for pathogens to grow and thrive, which is why it is so important to kill these pathogens prior to packaging.

So that leads to the next accusation I’ve heard: “Pasteurization is just used as a cover up for dirty dairies.” This is just plain insulting. Dairies today are held to high standards by our creameries as well as the state and federal government. We are incentivized to keep your dairy products as clean as possible. But none of that changes the fact that you are consuming an animal product. Milk, just like meat or eggs, needs to be properly prepared before you consume it and none of these products should ever be consumed raw. Contamination can come from so many sources, including your own kitchen. Why not take the necessary precautions to protect your family?

If, after reading this you are still interested in a raw diet, then I encourage you to only consume raw milk that has been tested free from pathogens, and is sold legally. Illegally buying untested raw milk from a backyard producer is extremely risky. Do the research for yourself, because your family’s health depends on it.

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