“Benefits of Pasteurization”

Prairie Doc Perspective


My father-in-law is a farmer. He grew up on the family farm in southwest Minnesota, where his dad grew up, too. Blessed by fertile soil, the farm has provided for the family for several generations. It is invaluable for my children to experience the farm, see the crops grow, help with animals, and learn about the cycles of life on the farm.

The farm no longer has cows, but it did at one time. My father-in-law used to milk cows. He remembers they had a pasteurizer. His mother would pour in raw milk. The cream rose to the top, and the milk would have chunks of fat and protein in it, from curdling. He remembers thinking how lucky the townsfolk were, having cartons of smooth milk, without the chunks.

The process of pasteurizing milk was invented by Louis Pasteur over 150 years ago. One of the “fathers” of bacteriology, germ theory, and microbiology, he helped develop sterilization procedures to kill off bacteria. He disproved a common belief at the time in spontaneous generation, proving that living beings do not spontaneously arise out of nothing. He invented the process of treating milk to stop bacterial contamination, now known as pasteurization, named in his honor.

Rich in nutrients, milk is an excellent medium for growing bacteria. In pasteurization, milk is heated to destroy pathogens like bacteria and spoilage organisms like yeast and molds. This helps to extend the shelf life of milk. Very little nutrients are lost in the process, and often additional good nutrients are added like vitamin D and vitamin A.

Improperly handled raw milk is the leading cause of hospitalization for any food-borne disease source. Pasteurization can help prevent numerous diseases and kills the harmful bacteria Salmonella, Listeria, Yersinia, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli, among others.

As more and more people are further removed from farm life, some people do not know where or how their food is made. Some take for granted the work and steps in getting the food to the grocery store. It is the pasteurization of milk that allows it to be safely consumed by anyone, far from the farm. Without it, we could be at risk of getting sick from bad milk. Without it, we might not all be able to enjoy the nutritional benefits of milk, helpful for our bones and overall health.

Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook and instagram featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its 22nd season of health information based on science, built on trust, live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.


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