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News | Sept. 14, 2023

Thoughts on milk pasteurization

By Dr. Konrad Hayashi Fort Stewart Department of Public Health


When I was attending graduate school, a church friend told me she once got sick from eating unpasteurized cheese on a trip to Ireland.  She said became severely fatigued for several month and explained it was attributed to Brucellosis -- a bacterial infection, which can also cause joint pain and fever.  Maybe 1 in 50 will die, if untreated with antibiotics. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, notes the most common way people get infected Brucellosis is by consuming unpasteurized, dairy products.  Pasteurization involves heating milk for varied time periods, depending on the temperature.

The CDC adds, after pasteurization was introduced in the 1860s, impart by the French microbiologist Louis Paster, the United States began to routinely use the process in the 1920s. 

That decision markedly reduced dairy-borne infections, including by tuberculosis and typhoid. It also doesn’t significantly change milk’s nutritional value. 

Other bacterial infections from ‘raw’ unpasteurized milk have been linked to outbreaks and hospitalizations – exampled by Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Camylobacter, and Crytosporidium. 

Common observable signs and symptoms of bacterial infections include stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Less common symptoms also include hemolytic uremic syndrome – a blood disorder involving acute kidney failure.

Older people, pregnant women, children under age 5, and individuals with weakened immune systems are a much greater risk from bacterial infections.  That is one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the American Veterinary Medical
Association were among the agencies that recommend nation-wide pasteurization adoption of dairy products.   

But while national pasteurization measures are in place; state codes differ and customers should be aware. The CDC notes while most stores sell only pasteurized milk, some dairies sell “raw” milk.  Please consider that efforts to detect contamination in unpasteurized milk continues to improve; but low levels of bacteria remain a risk and can later cause illness.   

My friend, being otherwise young and quite healthy, recovered, but it took her a long time.

So, I encourage you to use caution.  Stay healthy, stay informed.
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