Pasteurization is a century-old process that destroys pathogens through simple heat, and is well-known for its role in making milk and juices safe for consumption. To pasteurize a food means to destroy harmful microorganisms (e.g., bacteria and viruses) by applying a precise amount of heat for a specified period of time. This straightforward food safety technique was invented by French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur in 1864.
Pasteurization is an all natural process, in that it involves only heat (not chemicals or irradiation). To understand this idea, think of old-fashioned home canning, which also uses heat—combined with prescribed temperatures—to destroy harmful germs.
Pasteurization & Other Foods
Most people are most familiar with pasteurization of milk, where it prevents illness from bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli—and viruses such as Hepatitis A. Most milk is pasteurized.
Even though both interstate commerce rules and many state jurisdictions outlaw the sale of unpasteurized milk, some consumers still choose unpasteurized milk and dairy products. As a result, "Outbreaks associated with the consumption of raw milk routinely occur every year," according to Ohio State University scientists. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) attributes 85 foodborne illness outbreaks (1,614 people sick, 187 hospitalizations, and two deaths) over a 10-year period to consumption of unpasteurized milk, even though only a tiny share of the population consumes raw milk.
Pasteurization is now the norm for juice, too, following a series of foodborne illness outbreaks related to unpasteurized apple cider and other unpasteurized juices. In 1999, the FDA began requiring a warning label for any juice that is NOT pasteurized: "WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems."
Today, the majority of fruit and vegetable juices sold in supermarkets are pasteurized to eliminate harmful bacteria, says the FDA.
Pasteurization: Just the Facts
Early use of pasteurization for milk prevented life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever. Milk pasteurization was widespread in the US by the early 20th century—and this simple, natural process has prevented widespread illness and suffering. In fact, reports the Wall Street Journal, "Before 1938, when pasteurization was widely adopted, cow's milk accounted for about 25% of all food- and water-borne disease outbreaks."
Some people think that small-scale farming and good hygiene can prevent foodborne illness germs from reaching our foods. Explains the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), we've already tried this approach with a Certified Milk seal. The problem? "It quickly became evident that the procedures involved were no guarantee against milk-borne infections. There was no step anywhere in the process to actually destroy any contaminating bacteria. Certified milk was found to be responsible for several outbreaks…The weight of evidence began to tip the balance away from the old belief that fresh, raw milk was the best milk," explains the ACSH.
In an official position statement, the International Association for Food Protection states, "As a result of regulations under the US Public Health Service and a variety of state and local regulatory agencies, the incidence of milk-borne illness in the US has decreased from approximately 25% of all reported foodborne illness outbreaks in 1938 to less than 1 per cent of reported outbreaks today."
Simply put, the federal Food Safety information website explains, "Pasteurization DOES save lives."
World Health Organization Recommends Pasteurization
The World Health Organization (WHO) says, "Pasteurization of milk is almost universally accepted as an essential public health technology that enjoys the confidence and support of the consuming public".
Likewise, citing the dangers of raw eggs, undercooked eggs, and dishes containing undercooked eggs (e.g., homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, ice creams, and mousses) WHO recommends that consumers choose pasteurized eggs to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. They advise that vulnerable groups should be "especially vigilant" in choosing pasteurized eggs to protect their health.
The science for pasteurizing fresh eggs in their shells was developed in the late 1980s, but scaled up commercially only in the last decade. The egg pasteurization process is entirely natural and eliminates the risk of Salmonella bacteria as well as viruses (e.g., Avian influenza or "bird flu"). The egg pasteurization process does not cook the egg, protecting the wholesome quality and farm-fresh flavor you enjoy.
Unlike ordinary eggs, Safest Choice™ eggs offer food safety you can count on—in any recipe. According to the US Department of Agriculture, "In-shell pasteurized eggs may be used safely without cooking." Read more about pasteurized eggs.