The Safety and Effects of Pasteurisation on Milk
Raw milk has been safely consumed, fresh and soured, throughout history. Pasteurisation, a relatively recent innovation in the milk industry, was begun to combat the increasingly poor sanitation of commercial dairies. While the dairy industry today is arguably less hygienic than ever due to unusual feed rations, may people have access to clean raw milk from trusted farmers or their own cows. Yet drinking raw milk is considered dangerous, and pasteurisation is recommended even for families drinking “home-grown” milk. However, research suggests that pasteurisation is not an innocuous process.
What is Pasteurisation?
Milk is pasteurised by heating it to 161 degree Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. This kills or renders inactive many quickly-growing bacteria, but not those which grow slowly or form spores.
Pasteurisation Affects the Taste of Milk
Raw milk tastes distinctly different from pasteurised milk, even after the butterfat levels have been reduced to bring the raw milk in the line with the homogenised 3% fat product. Ultra-pasteurised milk tastes different again – in fact, despite a stable shelf life, ultra-pasteurised milk fails to sell well due to its perceived “off” flavour.
Pasteurising milk is also commonly said to reduce spoilage. However, as anyone who’s ever suspiciously sniffed at a carton of old milk knows, pasteurised milk can go very bad indeed. Raw milk, on the other hand, sours naturally into the “sour milk” and “sour cream” traditionally used in baking. Left for months, raw milk will eventually separate and curdle into a cheesy curd and nutritious whey, both quite safe and edible. Souring is, in fact, a natural process in the manufacture of many cultured dairy products, and not a synonym for “going off,” which pasteurised milk does in any case.
Pasteurisation Affects the Health Benefits of Milk
According to a 1938 British medical journal, the pasteurisation process:
turns milk’s lactose into beta-lactose, which is more quickly absorbed by the body and thus allays hunger less thoroughly than lactose
destroys 20% of the iodine in raw milk
And in another article on raw milk, Lori Lipinski declares:
“Pasteurized milk has up to a 66 percent loss of vitamins A, D and E. Vitamin C loss usually exceeds 50 percent. Heat affects water soluble vitamins and can make them 38 percent to 80 percent less effective. Vitamins B6 and B12 are completely destroyed during pasteurization. Pasteurization also destroys 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.”
The Supplemental Report in Favour of Raw Milk by Arlene Binder and Roger Noorthoek is an excellent resource for examining health claims about the dangers of raw milk. The two attorneys examine historical legal and medical cases, coming to the conclusion that pasteurised milk represents a significantly greater threat to the public. From 1973 to 1992, the authors state, pasteurised milk was responsible for 2185 times more food-borne illnesses than were attributed to raw milk. This was probably due to milk being recontaminated after pasteurisation, coupled with the fact that the pasteurisation process destroyed friendly bacteria in the milk which could have combated the contaminating pathogens.
Pasteurised Milk Is Allergenic
A large number of supposedly lactose-intolerant people are able to consume raw milk without any ill effects. This strongly indicates that pasteurisation is in some cases the real cause of the allergen, not milk qua milk. Pasteurising milk destroys lactase, which helps to digest lactose.
The conclusion of many raw milk advocates is that pasteurisation destroys milk’s nutritional, taste and culinary properties almost to the point of worthlessness. Indeed, many Traditional Foodists abstain from dairy products when raw dairy is not available. However, all stress the importance of obtaining raw dairy from a trusted source, preferably with organic, hormone-free, grass-fed cows. In this way raw milk can become a valued source of vitamins and calcium.