What Is the Meaning of Pasteurized?

Pasteurized is a term that describes food and drink that has been treated with doses of heat or radiation to kill microorganisms that breed disease, spread decay and trigger fermentation. French scientist Louis Pasteur developed pasteurization in 1864 and used it to keep wine from spoiling. In the early 1900s, American dairies began pasteurizing milk to kill deadly bacteria and increase shelf life. Today, many different food products are pasteurized. Irradiation is more recent pasteurization process that kills bacteria and preserves food with doses of radiation such as gamma rays or electron beams.

  1. Pasteurization

    • Pasteur found he was able to keep wine from going sour by heating it enough to kill the yeast responsible for fermentation. Dairy owners found they could apply the same idea to milk and keep it from turning sour for weeks by heating it and killing enzymes. But pasteurization, did much more, it killed pathogens that caused tuberculosis, diphtheria and scarlet fever. Foods are pasteurized either at high heats for short times, or low heats for longer times.The choice depends on the food and how the heating process might affect the quality and taste.


    • Irradiation, which is sometimes called cold pasteurization, also kills harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. It also destroys parasites that cause food to spoil and it stops certain fruits and vegetables from over ripening and sprouting which extends shelf life. Irradiation works by damaging the DNA of microorganism which makes them unable to reproduce. It does not make food radioactive. It does, however, affect the quality and taste of certain foods. Because many consumers fear the health effects of irradiation on food, its use has been limited.

    Pasteurized vs. Raw

    • Although Pasteurization is often described as one of the most significant advances made in food safety and disease prevention, its benefits have never been universally accepted. Organic and health food advocates believe pasteurization destroys nutrients and compromises taste. Many people continue to drink raw, or unpasteurized milk and the organic dairy industry is thriving. In the 22 states where the purchase and sale of raw milk for human consumption has been prohibited, producers and consumers sidestep those bans by buying and selling raw milk that has been labeled as pet food.

    Concerns about Irradiation

    • There is also strong opposition to irradiated foods. Irradiation has been used on some grain crops since the 1960s, and more recently other food producers have been convinced of its benefits. Although organic and health food advocates concede the process kills some bacteria, they also say it destroys vitamins and enzymes and creates new chemicals in food products that have unknown health effects. Those who oppose irradiation believe that proper sanitation on farms and more stringent care among processors and handlers would greatly reduce the threat of food-borne illnesses and eliminate the need for irradiation.

    Proven Track Record

    • Despite the resistance to pasteurization and irradiation, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control endorse both methods of treating food. Both agencies say pasteurization and irradiation are effective methods of reducing pathogens and curtailing food-borne illnesses. And both agencies also say pasteurized and irradiated foods are safe and the nutritional value is not significantly compromised by either process. The CDC also warns that consuming unpasteurized products, particularly raw milk, can cause serious health problems. According to CDC statistics, from 1993 to 2006, raw milk was responsible for 69 outbreaks of infection that caused 1,505 illnesses, 185 hospitalizations and two deaths.

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  • Photo Credit kids should drink milk image by Renata Osinska from Fotolia.com

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