Pasteurization is Still a Thing


I always say that Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization for a reason -- his reason was to prevent the hijacking and ruining of the fermentation process necessary to make alcohol. Of course, pasteurization has had a much broader application and impact than that. 

By making products safe for consumption, pasteurization is a cornerstone of food safety and a great example of how the human mind could solve a problem that was historically regarded as a mysterious fact of life. Pasteurization involves heating a substance to a degree to kill potentially harmful bacteria that may be present (either intrinsically or from later contamination). 

In recent years, there has been a (misguided, in my estimation) demand for unpasteurized products and hand-in-hand with this return to the primitive, almost as if pasteurization was designed for this very reason, have been reports of infections linked to consumption of these products. 

Once, as a fellow, I took care of a person who bought and consumed unpasteurized milk voluntarily, contracted a bacterial diarrheal illness (Campylobacter), developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and ended up on a mechanical ventilator with a tracheostomy. I thought the events were totally predictable and must've been something he thought about when he bought the milk but obviously the patient and his lawyer thought differently, filing a lawsuit accusing those involve with selling a "defective product" -- to me unpasteurized milk is, by definition, a "defective product."

Fast forward to last week and there were an important two items related to unpasteurized products consumption that illustrate the value of pasteurization: The first is the report of a Texas woman contracting the somewhat rare (because of pasteurization) brucellosis after drinking unpasteurized milk. In this case the strain of Brucella contracted was drug resistant making treatment more difficult. Brucellosis is a serious infection and it will be important to determine how many other preventable infections could have occurred.

The second is a Rhode Island warning about Listeria infections tied to consumption of queso fresco cheese. This type of soft cheese can be found in an unpasteurized, unsafe form and the risk of Listeria is real and can be devastating to pregnant women.

I can't fathom why people would knowingly expose themselves to unpasteurized products when other safer alternatives are readily available. I do, however, believe it is an adult's right to knowingly eat dangerous substances and face the consequences that Louis Pasteur has spared most of us from.