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What is pasteurization?

Pasteurization is a hundred-year-old process that destroys pathogens through simple heat, and is best known for its role in making milk and juices safe for consumption. French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur invented this straightforward food safety technique in 1864. 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.

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 set temperatures—to destroy harmful germs.

Pasteurized Milk

bottle of milkPasteurization of milk prevents illness from bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli—and viruses such as Hepatitis A. Most milk sold in grocery stores is pasteurized.

What’s the difference between pasteurized milk and homogenized milk?

While pasteurization of milk prevents illness from bacteria, homogenization of milk prevents separation in milk. Without homogenization, the fat in milk would separate and float to the top, forming a layer of cream. Most milk in grocery stores has undergone both processes. Pasteurized milk that has not been homogenized can also be purchased.

Unpasteurized Milk or Raw Milk

Although 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.

Pasteurized Juice

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.

Why are foods pasteurized?

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."

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 percent of reported outbreaks today." Simply put, the federal Food Safety information website explains, "Pasteurization DOES save lives."

Pasteurized Eggs

undercooked pasteurized egg sandwichThe Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, advises against eating ordinary raw eggs—or undercooked eggs—recommending, “Look for the word ‘pasteurized’ on the label.” They add, “These eggs have been treated to kill all bacteria (just like in pasteurized milk), so they are safe to eat in foods like cookie dough or certain salad dressings.”

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, Davidson's Safest Choice® pasteurized 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.