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Ultra- Pasteurized Milk:What Does It Mean?

Updated on February 1, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.


Louis Pasteur discovered that things heated to high temperatures and held there tended to have a longer shelf life than things not heated. In the late 1800s this was an important breakthrough to understanding bacteria and disease. Good old Louis, being the man that he was figured he had found an awesome way guarantee a good glass of beer with his lunch.

Why Milk Was Pasteurized

However there were real problems with food borne illness in the 1800s due to filthy conditions of both people and animals. As a matter of fact, history repeats itself- we are moving in that directions again. Pasteur and others found that by applying his discovery to milk the filthy dairies could produce a cleaner product while they worked to solve the many problems surrounding them and clean up their act, so to speak. It was such an easy solution, however, that the dairies had no real reason to spend the time and money to be more sanitary and so pasteurization came into vogue as an easy, and inexpensive fix.

As dairies became larger and milk was mass produced and traveled further distances pasteurization became helpful for making sure that the milk did not spoil en route. The public was not convinced however, and really fought against accepting pasteurized milk.

Is Raw Milk Dangerous?

Not to worry. Remember the food borne diseases of the turn of the century? A couple of good advertising campaigns were put in place and raw milk was suddenly the source of all kinds of diseases and icky bacteria. "Good mothers" gave their children pasteurized milk. And "make-it sterile mania " was born. Everything from milk to kitchen counters was part of the sterilization process. Even breast feeding fell out of favor because you could not sterilize a human nipple or pasteurize breast milk!

So, by the late 50's and early 60's pasteurization was all the rage and raw milk was something that only suicidal people drank.

Ultra-pasteurization: The Blanding of America

As the small family dairies went broke and the large commercial dairies became bigger the amount of milk available locally dropped. Now instead of milk being shipped 100 or 200 miles it was shipped across country. Sometimes it didn't arrive in such good shape.

Over time the microorganisms became resistant to pasteurization and human bodies less resistant to the microorganisms. So, the dairies began to process milk at higher temperatures, longer, and called this new process ultra-pasteurization.

Ultra-pasteurization will keep milk from going bad for four weeks, sometimes more. This milk can actually be kept on the shelf because it really won't go bad. The grocers love it. It is great for their profits. The big dairies love it, they worry even less about food borne illness as a result of their poor sanitary practices and the poor health of their animals.

Many consumers don't love it because it tastes...flat...watery...not really like milk. That is o.k. because over the past 30 years most of the American public has forgotten what real milk tastes like, just as they have forgotten what a real apple tastes like.

Ultra-pasteurized milk cannot be turned into cheese. Whipping cream that is ultra-pasteurized does not whip as well, so sometimes they add stabilizers to it. Even the organic dairies, like Horizon, are ultra-pasteurizing their milk. It does have to be marked according to the FDA, and it is getting harder and harder to find milk and dairy products that are not ultrapasteurized.

The Truth About Milk

But Is It Bad?

If drinking tasteless milk is acceptable to you maybe the health information won't be. You see, milk has both friendly and unfriendly bacteria in it. For the most part milk produced in clean environments, with careful farming practices does not have an overabundance of unhealthy bacteria, and in the small amounts actually help our body build up a resistance to illness, while the good bacteria keeps our bodies healthy and working properly.

Pasteurization also cuts the nutrient content of the milk. Pasteurized milk has up to a 66 percent loss of vitamins A, D and E. 50% of the Vitamin C is lost. High heat affects water soluble vitamins and less effective. How much less? Anywhere for 35-80%. Vitamins B6 and B12 are completely destroyed during pasteurization. Pasteurization also kills numerous beneficial enzymes, antibodies and hormones. Pasteurization destroys lipase (an enzyme that breaks down fat), which impairs fat metabolism and the ability to properly absorb fat soluble vitamins A and D. This is why the milk is fortified with vitamin D. It is also why Americans in the 20th century experienced high cholesterol like never before. Milk is a wonderful source of calcium, but pasteurization makes calcium and other minerals harder to absorb. One method of testing to see if milk has been adequately pasteurized is to test to make sure that phosphates have been completely removed. Phosphates are essential for the absorption of calcium. Uh oh.

So, now we have to take vitamins by the handfuls to get enough vitamins to power our bodies. Think of it like this. How would you feel if your employer took 75% of your paycheck and then replaced it with the same value in swamp land?

Raw Milk?

With today's technology raw milk could easily be transported across country in time to be bought and used before spoilage occurred. Raw milk is healthier, raw milk is better for the environment. What is the problem?

A hundred years of propaganda.

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