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What Is Pasteurization? - Definition & Common Uses

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  • 0:08 Shopping for Food
  • 0:32 Pasteurization
  • 3:04 Raw Milk
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will discuss pasteurization, Louis Pasteur, and mastitis. We'll focus in on how pasteurization works, what it's used on, and why it's important to your health.

Shopping For Food

One of the things I love to do is shop around for delicious food. The other day, I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and saw that the lady in front of me had bought an interesting concoction of food. She had a gallon of milk, some cheese, butter, eggs, and honey. It seemed to me that she was probably going to make some kind of delicious cake with most of those ingredients.

Pasteurization

What all of the items in the lady's basket had in common wasn't just their impending use in some kind of dessert, but the fact that all of them had been pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating, and then rapidly cooling, liquids or food in order to kill microbes that may expedite their spoilage or cause disease. The French scientist who invented the process of pasteurization was Louis Pasteur. Unsurprisingly, his last name, Pasteur, is what gives this process, pasteurization, its name.

In any case, after something is heated during the process of pasteurization, it must be rapidly cooled thereafter. I'll explain why that is the case in just a second. But, before I do that, you must realize that pasteurization is not sterilization. Sterilization is when you get rid of all living microorganisms on an inanimate object. Pasteurization is not sterilization because it doesn't destroy every single organism in whatever food or liquid is being heated, namely, pasteurization does not destroy bacterial spores. These spores are basically really hardy forms of bacteria that must be super-heated to be destroyed. The heating process of pasteurization does not get hot enough to destroy these spores, but does get hot enough, for long enough, to get rid of disease causing microbes.

Now, if rapid cooling doesn't occur after heating during pasteurization of something like milk, then heat-loving bacteria will use the increased temperature to their advantage and multiply like crazy. However, if we cool down the milk fast enough, we'll slow down the growth of any remaining microbes just enough so they don't cause us any significant harm.

So, in a nutshell, we heat up the milk to get rid of heat sensitive microbes, and then cool it down really quickly thereafter to make sure that the heat-loving bacteria don't use the warm milk to their advantage and do not multiply in numbers large enough to cause us any harm. This process of minimizing the number of microbes in our food not only helps to prevent life-threatening diseases, but also decreases the number of microbes that would spoil our food, thereby wasting our money on short-lasting sustenance, such as milk, butter, and so on.

Raw Milk

However, the money-saving benefits of pasteurization are secondary compared to the lifesaving benefits it really imparts. With this in mind, I must touch on the recently popular topic of drinking raw milk. This is milk that has not been pasteurized. Proponents of drinking raw milk claim that there's no point to pasteurization, since it doesn't get rid of all microbes anyways, and that pasteurization also destroys beneficial nutrients. There are two important points to make here with respect to those claims.

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