Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage?

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

Earlier this week I started my little series on dairy. Since then I have been working on a follow-up but it seems like something has always come up, but to make it up to you all I am going to give an epic post today.

In the previous post I mentioned pasteurization. Here we are going to discuss what it is, why it was started, and basically analyze the shit out of it. According to Wikipedia pastuerization

“is a process which slows microbial growth in foods. The process was named after its creator, French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur. Pasteurization aims to reduce the number of viable pathogens so they are unlikely to cause disease (assuming the pasteurization product is refrigerated and consumed before its expiration date). Pasteurization typically uses temperatures below boiling since at temperatures above the boiling point for milk, casein micelles will irreversibly aggregate (or “curdle“). There are two main types of pasteurization used today: High Temperature/Short Time (HTST) and Extended Shelf Life (ESL) treatment. Ultra-high temperature (UHT or ultra-heat treated) is also used for milk treatment. In the HTST process, milk is forced between metal plates or through pipes heated on the outside by hot water, and is heated to 71.7 °C (161 °F) for 15-20 seconds. UHT processing holds the milk at a temperature of 138 °C (280 °F) for a fraction of a second. ESL milk has a microbial filtration step and lower temperatures than HTST. Milk simply labeled “pasteurization ” is usually treated with the HTST method, whereas milk labeled “ultra-pasteurization ” or simply “UHT” has been treated with the UHT method.

The HTST pasteurization standard was designed to achieve a 5-log reduction, killing 99.999% of the number of viable micro-organisms in milk. This is considered adequate for destroying almost all yeasts, mold, and common spoilage bacteria and also to ensure adequate destruction of common pathogenic heat-resistant organisms (including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis and Coxiella burnetii, which causes Q fever). HTST pasteurization processes must be designed so that the milk is heated evenly, and no part of the milk is subject to a shorter time or a lower temperature.”

This seems all well and good right? It destroys harmful bacteria, making contamination almost impossible. When Louis Pasteur came up with the process, our food production was terrible. The idea of sanitation was not known, the idea that germs caused illness was just being realized (because of Pasteur) and animals, like cows, were not brought up in pristine conditions. Milk from cows brought up in completely unsanitary conditions, being sick and unhealthy, but still having their milk sold was cause for some serious health problems. This was before the creation of the FDA or any other food regulatory system, and before The Jungle showcased to the nation how disgusting our food production was. Incidentally that book led to the creation of the FDA, but that is neither here nor there. It is completely logical to believe that pasteurization was a huge breakthrough, and a necessity at the time of its inception. At the time, pasteurized milk was safer than raw. The question is though, is that still the case today?

One example showcasing the dark side of pasteurization is this study right here. While I am not a believer in the idea that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease, I do believe that oxidized cholesterol poses a huge problem, and is a major factor in heart disease. One specific example of oxidized cholesterol is 7-Ketocholesterol, a dangerous byproduct that comes from the oxidation of cholesterol. 7-Ketocholesterol is linked to not only heart disease, but cancer as well. The following chart is from the given study showing how pasteurization causes the formation of this deadly product. The higher the temperature that the milk is exposed to, the higher the level of 7-ketocholesterol, and that microwaving milk and ultra pasteurization causes the greatest increase in this deadly byproduct. The left side shows the temperature and duration of the pasteurization process, the right side shows the amount of 7-ketocholesterol after the pasteurization was complete.

  • Raw cow’s milk                                                    None Detected
  • Milk Pasteurized at 85C for 16 sec.                        2.613e±0.806
  • Milk pasteurized at 95C for 5 min.                         11.733d±8.119
  • Milk pasteurized at 95C for 15 min.                       16.328c±1.717
  • Milk pasteurized at 85-90C for 2 min.                    3.142e±0.694
  • Milk boiled at 96C for 5min.                                   15.363c±1.922
  • Milk boiled in microwave oven at 95C for 5min.     50.029b±1.089
  • Milk heated at 140C for 4 sec (UHT)                      8.708de±1.399
  • Reconstituted milk powder (UHT)                          80.97a±1.232

That is some scary stuff right there, and certainly makes me wary of consuming pasteurized milk, and especially ultra pasteurized milk, not to mention using the microwave. I’m not presenting this data as a scare tactic, but just to inform people that just because the FDA or the dairy industry tells you pasteurization is better, it might just be better for their pockets, not necessarily for your health.

Onto homogenization. While I won’t go into as much detail on this one, I will give an overview. Homogenization is the process of preventing the cream and water in milk from separating. This is accomplished by forcing the milk at incredibly high pressure through small holes. This seems uncomplicated and fine, except that this causes the fat globules to be much smaller in size, and some may pass through the intestinal walls intact into the bloodstream. There are theories all over the place linking homogenization to heart disease, leaky gut syndrome, and actually being a big cause of dairy allergies. There isn’t a whole lot of proof about the dangers of homogenization, but the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, there wasn’t always proof about the dangers of trans-fat either.

In closing, I have slowly, very slowly, come around to the idea of certified organic raw milk as being the healthiest cow’s milk option. If you purchase from a local farm that pastures their cows and keeps their animals in excellent health, then in my opinion you have less to worry about from raw milk than the pasteurized, homogenized corn fed version at Stop n’ Shop. To learn more about raw milk and where you can get it, check it out here.

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Posted on April 5th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

36 Comments

  1. Topics about Animals » Archive » Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage? Says:

    [...] Glossographia placed an interesting blog post on Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage?Here’s a brief overview…was not known, the idea that germs caused illness was just being realized (because of Pasteur) and animals, like cows, were not brought up in… [...]

  2. Topics about Animals » Archive » Comment on Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage? by Topics about… Says:

    [...] Brandon put an intriguing blog post on Comment on Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage? by Topics about…Here’s a quick excerpt[...] Glossographia placed an interesting blog post on Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage?Here’s a brief overview…was not known, the idea that germs caused illness was just being realized (because of Pasteur) and animals, like cows, were not brought up in… [...] [...]

  3. Charles Henry Says:

    There may be a few valid points here, but until the threat from Mycobacterium bovis has been dealt with, pasteurization will always be necessary to safeguard against TB.

  4. Jack Says:

    Brian,

    Where does the pasteurized and homogenized dairy versus raw milk versus no dairy fit in with those touting milk or store-bought plain Greek yogurt as excellent post-training options. (or even a whey/casein powder blend) for that matter)? Should certain folks be looking for another option in this regard?

    As far as the 7-ketocholesterol issue, how does this impact upon dairy products made with skim milk?

  5. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Charles,

    If you do a search on mycobacterium there is a very very small amount of infected cattle, usually in specific regions that are known. Diseases like that spread when animals are kept in close quarters with suppressed immune systems, ie – conventional dairy farms. When you have well treated, properly fed and maintained cows, the risk is minimized to almost nothing. Is there still potential? While I can never say never, I would say the risk is about as likely as getting salmonella from a raw egg from a healthy hen (read – not very likely). So if weigh out the risks, and the fact that 10 million Americans drink raw milk from small dairy farms who rely on good word of mouth, I take raw milk over pasteurized any day.

  6. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Jack,

    When it comes to post training there are a lot of factors to consider, and it is true that conventional dairy and Greek yogurt will absolutely support growth, as will a whey/casein blend. I would suggest looking for a raw milk option if you want dairy post training. For most people with mild dairy allergies, raw milk and yogurt seem to do just fine, another bonus. Ideally if you can find yogurt made from raw milk, go for it, but it won’t be easy.

    As far as 7-ketocholesterol is concerned with skim milk, there isn’t any data out there on it that I know of. In terms of other components of the milk, skim milk has to have vitamins added back in to replace ones that have been damaged. Synthetic vitamins are never as beneficial, and who knows what else has been damaged that we don’t replace?

    I don’t necessarily think that pasteurization is the worst thing in our food system, and you can find some decent milk (like Organic Valley), but I prefer to have a choice, and I would choose raw.

  7. Begin your week on a good note « Ride Blessed Says:

    [...] happen the way they do weather it is with your body, workout, or just something random. What is pasteurization and should we worry about it?  Why do bees make honey?  How important is recovery to your [...]

  8. rhea harvey Says:

    I’ve been looking at things about getting milk that’s actually good for me. The more and more I’ve been researching it has seemed no matter what I get its all bad. I recently bought organic grass fed cow milk and than realized it was ultra pasteurized witch than i had to research what that meant exactly. I knew it wasn’t that great but i didn’t know how bad it really was. Thanks for the article, I’m going to look for the word raw on my milk before i buy it now.

  9. sal Says:

    hey brian, I read omnivore’s dilemma last year, and it pretty much changed my life. To hear your thoughts about it over the last few weeks has taken me back to when I read it. Another amazing book that you NEED to read is Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price. I know you are familiar with the Westeon A Price organization, and sally fallons work, but if you have not read this book you are missing out. I figured I would comment here because it is very relevant to raw milk. Anyways, check it out and post a blog about it. Word needs to get out about raw milk and its health benefits, and this book is the best scientific evidence I have ever seen about anything. The research is just phenomenal. Here is a little video I found about a guy commenting on the book http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzhnvvo0Tk0&feature=related

  10. Important Info For Expecting Parents : The Home of Brian St. Pierre Training Says:

    [...] should more closely resemble breast milk (I’m surprised the FDA hasn’t mandated that we pasteurize that) since that is what we evolved to be weaned on. I would like to see a higher saturated fat [...]

  11. Wobble Boards and Warm Milk | EricCressey.com Says:

    [...] Pasteurization: Awesome or Complete Garbage? – This blog post from Brian St. Pierre is very well research and presented.  Let’s just say you won’t ever want to drink warm milk again after reading this. [...]

  12. Mark Says:

    Brian, I realize this is just a blog post and not a research paper but I think you left out some really basic information. The numbers correlating to the about of 7-ketocholesterol in the heated mike, what units is that in? Are we talking grams, milli-grams or pico-grams? Also what does the research say about what levels of 7-ketocholesterol are dangerous? Without these two pieces of information your post goes nowhere. I’m not trying to be mean only providing some constructive criticism.

  13. Wesley Says:

    Hey Brian, what do you know about getting milk in cartons vs bottles or see-through plastics? For years I’ve been getting carton milk because I heard somewhere that light gets into the jugs and contaminates the milk somehow. I also thought it tasted better too, but maybe it’s all in my head…Thanks!

  14. The Case Against Conventional Dairy : The Home of Brian St. Pierre Training Says:

    [...] Clearly this is where the problems truly began, since to some degree or another we have been consuming dairy and milk for approximately 10,000 years without issue! As some of you may know, I am no fan of pasteurization as I think it destroys the taste and flavor or raw milk, as well as many beneficial compounds, including lactobacillus acidophilus, one of the most highly studied health-promoting cultures in yogurt. I wrote a blog on the topic here. [...]

  15. Anonymous Says:

    First off, like someone else pointed out, you failed to mention what units the 7-ketocholesterol were measured in and also at what level it’s considered unsafe. Also I work at a plant that has several UHT systems and I can tell the hold time is much less than the four seconds you are talking about. In anything that is UHT pastuerized I think you should be less worried about the pastuerization and more worried about the stablizers and other dry powders or vitamins added to the milk.

  16. Delicious Dairy : The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition Says:

    [...] am also not a huge fan of pasteurization (especially UHT pasteurization), as it changes the taste of milk, seems to deaden the product and definitely kills off some of the [...]

  17. Mary McGough Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I drink a lot of milk and these concerns were not at all on my radar. I think I won’t be drinking quite as much conventional milk now.

  18. just a moran Says:

    I just wish they’d stop the homogenization. They’ll never stop the pasteurization.. god forbid they ever make UHT the norm… but at least they could stop the other practice so the fat floats to the top and it’s healthier.

    they won’t though. the sheep would cawk about the seperation.

  19. Chris Says:

    Good post Brian! Big fan of raw milk.

    (((c)))

  20. Justin Says:

    Interesting article, but I believe that your analysis is incomplete. I am not a milk producer nor do I work on behalf of the milk industry. However, I am an engineer and scientist.

    You list results from a study showing that the oxidized cholesterol, 7-Ketocholesterol, is present after milk processing, but do not indicate the concentration at which this chemical may cause concern for the health of the consumer or the units of concentration in your list (ie: ng, mg/cm^3, etc.).

    Without these additional details, you really cannot make conclusion of the information’s ‘scary-ness’. These are simply numerical values. You may want to consider further clarification.

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