US Food Safety Standards: The heated debate about pasteurization
What is pasteurization?
Weighing the Benefits and Risks of Raw milk
What are the benefits?
What are the risks?
Reframing the problem
Local Economies, Small Farms, Consumer Choice
Who is doing the research and who gets to decide?
References & Links
Comments & questions to:
What is Pasteurization?
Pasteurization, invented by Louis
Pasteur in 1864, kills harmful bacteria that tend to grow in dairy
products, especially in the absence of refrigeration. At the
time, the discovery was rather revolutionary; it allowed milk to be
consumed less immediately and prevented many illnesses.
Pasteurization is defined by the FDA as “a process that kills harmful
bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of
time…[it] kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as
listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis”
Cheesemaking originated from the desire
to preserve milk products in the absence of refrigeration, centuries
before pasteurization was discovered. Raw milk cheese is made
from unpasteurized milk, dating back to these traditions of
preservation, and involves no refinement or heating before the cheese
making process begins.
Pasteurization legislation—first introduced after World War
II—completely changed the processes by which small farmers were
allowed to operate and by which consumers could purchase their cheese
products. In the United States today, the sale of raw milk cheeses is
permitted only if they have been aged for more than 60 days at less
than 35 degrees to kill bacteria. This out-dated restriction stems from
a law passed by congress in 1949, when technologies to protect cheese
were limited. This aging process is thought to render raw milk
cheeses safe for consumption in the US. Pasteurized cheeses are
not subject to an aging policy, as they are considered safe.
However, there are still warnings posted on certain kinds of
pasteurized cheeses, as discussed in a further section.
Many Europeans eat raw milk cheeses regularly, as they are generally legal throughout the EU.
Countries such as France and Switzerland are well known for producing
some of the finest raw milk cheeses in the world. Yet, imports of
most raw milk cheeses consumed widely in Europe are illegal in the US because
they don’t conform to US standards (Kummer, 2000).
Consumption of raw milk itself is actually
legal in 28 states and available for pet food in five others (see in-depth description of each state here). Still, its consumption, along with
unpasteurized cheese is strongly discouraged by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US
Department of Agriculture (USDA). These institutions urge consumers,
especially pregnant women, children, elderly, or consumers with
compromised immune systems to avoid raw milk products as a health
courtesy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, shows the
regulation of state sales of raw milk. Click the image to visit
Problems with pasteurization
Critics believe that pasteurization is a
temporary fix to a broken system of large-scale farming and dairy
production. Advocates of raw milk cheese do not believe that all
farmers should cease to pasteurize their milk; pasteurization is vital
for milk from farms with hundreds and even thousands of cows with
unsanitary living conditions. Most large-scale dairy farms are
unable to monitor their animals and environments closely to ensure that
the animals are healthy and clean. Therefore, milk must be
pasteurized in this kind of production system to kill the bad bacteria
prevalent in these conditions.
Supporters of raw milk believe that Pasteur’s
discovery of germs has led to an obsessive scientific approach to
bacteria that is often unwarranted. A full 90% of human body cells are
microbial (Paxon, 2008), but our society has become obsessed with germ
elimination, from antibacterial hand soap to
ultra-pasteurization. These methods of science-based germ control
are effective in getting rid of germs, but they eliminate germs without
discrimination, killing both healthy and unhealthy bacteria. Many
are concerned that this wide-scale elimination is creating unhealthy
consumers with immune systems that are less resistant to things like
diseases and allergens.
Last updated: 5/06/10