Tiffany says: Please explain the ultra-pasteurized thing because I’m really ignorant about why that’s a bad thing. I’m asking because we buy the organic milk, but I think it’s ultra-pasteurized, so maybe I should be buying something different?
Me: Good question! I talked about this long ago when I first discovered the information, but I fear that I all too often just refer to it without explaining it.
Pasteurization, as you probably know, slows microbial growth in food and makes milk last longer. Pasteurization was created at a time in history (early 1900s) when family farms were becoming less common and industrial methods were being implemented to bring milk to more people at further distances. Milk from various farms was being combined and shipped great distances, and at that time, cleanliness and hygiene were not well observed, so the milk easily became contaminated.
There were several different reactions at the time. Some went to great lengths to make raw milk safe and clean, and it was actually quite successful. At the same time, others turned to the pasteurization process in an attempt to reduce harmful bacterias that may be present in raw milk.
For a while, both methods co-existed peacefully, but eventually legislation was put in place requiring milk sold in retail establishments to be pasteurized — one of the biggest travesties of the 20th century, in my humble opinion.
Today raw milk is legal in some states, but not all. Here in Pennsylvania, it can be purchased directly from farms or from some small health food stores. But back to pasteurization…
With conventional (storebought) milk, there are basically two methods of pasteurization: HTST and UHT.
HTST stands for High Temperature, Short Time. On the label, it will usually say Pasteurized. This process brings milk to no more than 165° F and holds it there for only 15-20 seconds. Shelf life of HTST milk is 2-3 weeks.
UHT stands for Ultra-High Temperature. It is also called Ultra-Pasteurized. This process heats milk to 280° F for a minimum of one second. The purpose is to make it last longer — it has shelf life of 2-3 MONTHS — but by doing so it basically kills off most of the nutritional value that existed in the fresh milk and makes it even harder to digest.
The reason many organic brands choose to use the Ultra Pasteurized method is because it lasts longer on the shelf. In fact, UHT milk isn’t even required to be refrigerated!!! (Did you ever notice that those little organic chocolate milk boxes aren’t refrigerated??)
I stay far, far away from ultra-pasteurized dairy products. I won’t even buy half-and-half for my coffee if it’s ultra-pasteurized. Ick.
There is one other kind of pasteurization, usually employed only by small farms that sell their milk locally.
Low-heat Pasteurization heats the milk to 145° and holds it there for 30 minutes, then it is quickly cooled to prepare for bottling. If you have access to this type of milk, it is far superior to the other methods of pasteurization.
I would be remiss if I did not tell you that I firmly believe that no amount of pasteurization is safe for preserving the optimal nutritional benefits and digestibility of whole milk. Personally, I can only drink raw (unpasteurized) milk. If I drink any form of pasteurized milk, I get horrible stomach aches that last hours. But pasteurization seems to be a necessary evil in a world where milk has become an industrial commodity.
If you must buy your milk at the grocery store, go for the regular pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized.
And if you have access to a local farm that sells their own milk and uses the low heat pasteurization process, even better.
If you are comfortable drinking raw milk and have a clean source, you will be much better off. For more about why we drink raw milk, you can read The Raw Milk Question.