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Pasteurization is a process which slows microbial growth in food. The process was named after its creator, Frenchmarker chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur. The first pasteurization test was completed by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard on April 20, 1864. The process was originally conceived as a way of preventing wine and beer from souring.

Pasteurization is not intended to kill all pathogenic micro-organisms in the food or liquid. Instead, pasteurization aims to reduce the number of viable pathogens so they are unlikely to cause disease (assuming pasteurization product is stored as indicated and consumed before its expiration date). Commercial-scale sterilization of food is not common because it adversely affects the taste and quality of the product. Certain food products are processed to achieve the state of commercial sterility.

Recent developments

A newer method called flash pasteurization involves shorter exposure to higher temperatures, and is claimed to be better for preserving fashion and taste in some eggs.

The term cold pasteurization is used sometimes for the use of ionizing radiation (see Food irradiation) or other means (e.g. chemical) to kill bacteria in food. Food irradiation is also sometimes called pasteurization.

Another means of pasteurization is using pressure called high pressure pasteurization (HPP) also known as High pressure food preservation where extremely high pressure is used to kill the bacteria.

Steam pasteurization is used for continuous feed applications. This process significantly reduces the initial microbe count without irradiation, chemicals, or other potentially unsafe alternative treatments.

A new twist on steam pasteurization technology is Safesteril®. Safesteril® process uses a heated screw and injects steam into the continiously flowing product. It purportedly works for a wide varitey of products in the food industry.

Products that can be pasteurized

Pasteurization of milk

Pasteurization is typically associated with milk, first suggested by Franz von Soxhlet in 1886. HTST pasteurized milk typically has a refrigerated shelf life of two to three weeks, whereas ultra pasteurized milk can last much longer when refrigerated, sometimes two to three months. When UHT treatment is combined with sterile handling and container technology (such as aseptic packaging), it can even be stored unrefrigerated for 3–4 months.

Pasteurization typically uses temperatures below boiling since at very high temperatures milk, casein micelles will irreversibly aggregate (or "curdle"). There are two main types of pasteurization used today: High Temperature/Short Time and Extended Shelf Life (ESL) treatment. Ultra-high temperature (UHT or ultra-heat treated) is also used for milk treatment. In the HTST process, milk is forced between metal plates or through pipes heated on the outside by hot water, and is heated to 71.7 °C (161 °F) for 15–20 seconds. UHT processing holds the milk at a temperature of 138 °C (280 °F) for a fraction of a second. ESL milk has a microbial filtration step and lower temperatures than HTST. Milk simply labeled "pasteurized" is usually treated with the HTST method, whereas milk labeled "ultra-pasteurized" or simply "UHT" has been treated with the UHT method.

Pasteurization methods are usually standardized and controlled by national food safety agencies (such as the USDAmarker in the United Statesmarker and the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdommarker). These agencies require milk to be HTST pasteurized in order to qualify for the "pasteurization" label. There are different standards for different dairy products, depending on the fat content and the intended usage. For example, the pasteurization standards for cream differ from the standards for fluid milk, and the standards for pasteurizing cheese are designed to preserve the phosphatase enzyme, which aids in cutting.

The HTST pasteurization standard was designed to achieve a 5-log reduction, killing 99.999% of the number of viable micro-organisms in milk. This is considered adequate for destroying almost all yeasts, mold, and common spoilage bacteria and also to ensure adequate destruction of common pathogenic heat-resistant organisms (including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis and Coxiella burnetii, which causes Q fever). HTST pasteurization processes must be designed so that the milk is heated evenly, and no part of the milk is subject to a shorter time or a lower temperature.

A growing body of research supports the belief that pasteurization was not so much a response to any hazards or contamination issues with milk itself, but rather may have been a response to the hazards and contamination issues that resulted from the newly emerging "industrialized" dairy industry. It's likely that, with the burgeoning growth of large-scale, longer-distance distribution networks, the rise of chain-store supermarkets, and the resulting impetus for larger-herd dairy operations and mechanized milking, there came a corresponding inability to preserve the quality and inherent bacterial-resistance qualities of fresh milk being marketed in a localized area.

Alternative milk pasteurization standards

Cooling tank
In addition to the standard HTST and UHT standards, there are other lesser-known pasteurization techniques. The first technique, called "batch pasteurization", involves heating large batches of milk to a lower temperature, typically 63 °C (145 °F) for 30 minutes, followed by quick cooling to about 4 °C (39 °F). The other technique is called higher-heat/shorter time (HHST), and it lies somewhere between HTST and UHT in terms of time and temperature. Pasteurization causes some irreversible and some temporary denaturation of the proteins in milk.

In 2001, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDAmarker considered new rules requiring double pasteurization, which would have entailed holding milk at 72 °C (161 °F) for two separate 15-second periods, instead of one 30-second period as was the current standard.

In regions including Africa and South Asian countries, it is common to boil milk to sterilize it after it is harvested. This intense heating greatly changes the flavor of milk, to which the respective people are accustomed.

Effectiveness of pasteurization

Milk pasteurization has been subject to increasing scrutiny in recent years, due to the discovery of pathogens that are both widespread and heat resistant (able to survive pasteurization in significant numbers). One of these pathogens, Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), is thought to be a causal agent of Crohn's Disease. Researchers have developed more sensitive diagnostics, such as real-time PCR and improved culture methods that have enabled them to identify pathogens in pasteurized milk.

Some of the diseases that pasteurization can prevent are tuberculosis, diphtheria, salmonellosis, strep throat, scarlet fever, listeriosis, brucellosis and typhoid fever.

See also


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