About Pasteurization

There’s a lot of fuss about “raw milk” and “pasteurization” today, much of which is silly.  On our farm, we don’t “pasteurize” milk.  That’s not because we believe that pasteurization is “bad”, but because it isn’t necessary.  What makes “pasteurization” necessary is the consumption of milk a long time after it is collected from the cow or goat. Where farms sell their milk to be consumed in cities or suburbs, that milk needs to be pasteurized.  On a farm, where it’s consumed by a farm family hours after it’s collected, no pasteurization is necessary.

What is Pasteurization?

Contrary to the craziness, pasteurization is simply a process of preparing milk for storage.  Bacteria that we should not consume will multiply to unhealthy levels in milk and it comes from two different sources:

  1. from within the milk itself
  2. from the environment outside the milk

To deal with the bacteria that can develop from with the milk itself, the milk is heated to a point that will kill the existing bacteria.  To deal with the bacteria that threatens to enter the milk from the outside, the milk is sealed. Then, the milk is cooled as quickly as possible and kept cool to prevent the multiplication of any bacteria that does make it past us.  That’s all “pasteurization” is.

Many people who make a big fuss about pasteurization are fans of canning and preserving.  Well, what do you think we’re doing when we can foods?  We’re pasteurizing them.  The argument against pasteurizing milk is, really, silly.

The Dangers are Real

Now, there are some who will argue that pasteurization threatens not only “bad bacteria” but also the “good bacteria” found in milk.  That’s true, but your body doesn’t become healthy from these bacteria.  Your body should already be healthy and these bacteria help maintain that health.  If you’re digestive system is a mess, it’s not because milk is being pasteurized.

Furthermore, those recommending pasteurization for milk are not doing so because they believe that all bacteria is bad and should be destroyed.  They are saying that avoiding the potentially harmful bacteria that can develop in milk is more important than obtaining the healthful bacteria in it.   The Center for Disease Control says,

“Raw milk can cause serious illnesses. Raw milk and raw milk products can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and other germs that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death. These harmful germs include BrucellaCampylobacterCryptosporidiumE. coliListeria, and Salmonella.”

This is not theory, but a fact–and note that it does not say “Raw milk causes serious illness.” but “Raw milk can cause serious illness.”   This is especially true when farms are selling milk for profit, hiring others to do the milking, cutting corners, and so on.  In fact, these conditions have caused sickness outbreaks.  Before you defend “raw milk”, you have research to do on the farm you’re getting your milk from.  Our milk cows, for example, are kept in clean, open-air pastures separate from all other animals. Some farms have chickens loose in the pastures, messing the grass the milk cows are eating, have sick cows mixed in with the milking cows, and so on.  The friendly person selling you the bottle of milkmay not be the person milking the cow.  You’d better find out who is and determine whether you’re comfortable with the process.  To argue that “raw milk” is healthy without any consideration of the actual conditions on the farm where the milk is coming from is silly.

Natural vs. Unnatural

It is often argued that raw milk is “natural” and pasteurized milk is “unnatural”, but the reality is that drinking raw milk 30+ min. away from the milk cow is unnatural.  The law does not say that drinking raw milk is unhealthy or illegal.  It is saying that selling raw milk to be consumed off the farm is dangerous.

Calves do not drink bottled milk.  They drink the milk direction from the mother’s body, the milk never being exposed to air before it’s in the calf’s mouth.  The same is true for breast-fed humans.  If anyone wants to talk about “natural” milk consumption, that’s where the discussion ends.  We may, however, argue that for farm families to consume the fresh milk from their dairy cows is a “natural” source of food, because the mothers produce much more than the calves need, but once we get off the farm, all the “natural” talk needs to stop.

Bottling, transporting and storing milk miles away from the farm is not “natural”.  Therefore, we need to take artificial measures to address problems that arise.  We can provide families living far from the farm with healthy milk full of protein, vitamins and minerals.  To get that milk to them, some of the potential nutritional value may need to be sacrificed.  That’s how we should look at pasteurized milk.

The Bottom Line

For all the fuss about pasteurization, most of the milk we consume on the farm is used in cooked foods.  It doesn’t need to be pasteurized because we cook it.  We rarely drink milk, and if we wanted to do so, we’d pasteurize some milk first and set it aside in the refrigerator for drinking.  If you’re drinking milk that has been separated from the cow for some time, you should pasteurize it or just buy pasteurized milk.  If you’re cooking with milk, then raw milk is less of a concern.

The bottom line is that no one needs “raw milk” to enjoy good health and raw milk is not going to make an unhealthy person well.  If you have local access to raw milk and can consume it quickly, it may offer some health benefits, but the longer the time is between milking and consumption, the greater the risk you’re taking–and for what?  Some bacteria?  Don’t be silly.

God bless,

Bill Michael
Michael Family Farm

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