An important public health measure beginning in 1864, pasteurization was developed by and named for its creator, Louis Pasteur. The process of pasteurization can reduce food spoilage as well as contamination that can cause significant illness. Several different types of foods may be pasteurized, including milk and dairy products, fruit juices and wine. While pasteurization has been shown to prevent disease, some people question whether the process kills important nutrients. When this occurs, the loss appears to be insignificant, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health organizations.
Pasteurization is a process of killing some types of bacteria in order to make food safer. Pasteurization works by heating the food to specific temperatures for a certain period of time to kill the bacteria; often, the food must be refrigerated following the process. The type of pasteurization varies with each method and type of food. or example, some types of pasteurization include flash, steam or irradiation pasteurization. Flash pasteurization is used on pourable products, such as juice in juice boxes. Around 50 percent of meat in the United States undergoes steam pasteurization, according to the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Science at Clemson University. Poultry, red meat, fruits, vegetables and some spices undergo irradiation.
Pasteurization has been met with controversy almost since the time the practice began. For various reasons, people have been opposed to consuming pasteurized foods, stating that pasteurization kills not only harmful bacteria, but beneficial microorganisms as well. Additionally, some people avoid pasteurized foods, stating that pasteurization kills nutrients such as vitamins and enzymes, and in the case of milk, that the process destroys important milk proteins.
Pasteurization may reduce some types of vitamins in foods in insignificant ways. For example, pasteurization may diminish vitamin C found in orange juice, yet this type of juice already contains almost enough vitamin C to meet the recommended daily allowance, according to the American Council on Science and Health. In other situations, pasteurization does not affect nutrient content in a meaningful way. For example, in the case of milk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that there are no significant differences in nutritional value between pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.
Eating or drinking foods that are not pasteurized, such as raw milk, can cause illness. The pasteurization process is designed to protect people from dangerous organisms that can cause diseases such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis or diphtheria. Pasteurization does not significantly reduce the nutritional content of foods, and consuming raw products to avoid losing nutrients can be unsafe, particularly among pregnant women, children or those with weakened immune systems.
- FoodSafetySite.com: Describe Pasteurization
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk
- Body Ecology: The Pasteurized Foods You Should Consider Avoiding and the Healthy Reasons Why
- American Council on Science and Health; What Comes Naturally: Contaminated Apple Juice and Opposition to Pasteurization; Dr. William M. London; October 1996