Pasteurization is the process of heating food products to a certain temperature in order to kill harmful bacteria. We frequently associate pasteurization with milk. However, it is not limited to the dairy aisle. All sorts of liquid and solid foods are made suitable for human consumption through pasteurization.
Interestingly enough, what we now know as pasteurization dates back to the 12th century. Back then, Chinese winemakers were heating their products to sterilize them. Documents found in Japan suggest they were doing the same thing by the mid-to-late 15th century.
It was Louis Pasteur who discovered that most food products could be sterilized at lower temperatures, thus mitigating the need to boil things. His discovery led to the process being named after him. Today, pasteurization occurs at 212°F or lower.
Below are five common food products normally subject to pasteurization, compliments of Houston-based Cedarstone Industry, a manufacturer of custom pasteurization and other food processing equipment.
1. Dairy Products
Dairy is considered a single product for the purposes of this post because milk is pasteurized before being turned into things like ice cream, butter, and cheese. Obviously, the jugs of milk you buy at the grocery store have been pasteurized. When it comes to dairy products, pasteurization does two things. It eliminates harmful bacteria and deactivates some enzymes that can cause problems for human digestive systems.
2. Beer and Wine
Unlike spirits, beer and wine are not distilled. That means they contain unwanted bacteria that could be harmful to humans. As such, beer and wine are pasteurized just like milk. They are heated to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, then flash cooled.
There is some debate about whether or not pasteurization affects the flavor of beer and wine. As you might expect, people take positions on both sides. It is a lot like the raw vs. pasteurized milk debate.
We normally associate pasteurization with liquid food products. However, solid products can be pasteurized as well. Almonds and chestnut are two examples. A USDA regulation forcing almond farmers to pasteurize their nuts back in 2010 was the subject of a ton of criticism. Almond growers still debate the merits of the regulation to this day.
Fortunately, those who prefer organic food can still buy unpasteurized nuts. They are imported most of the time, but some domestic producers offer them as well.
4. Fruit Juices and Concentrates
Next up are fruit juices and concentrates. What’s the difference? A fruit juice is a liquid product that combines juice extracted from fruit with other ingredients. A concentrate contains juice alone. Apple cider is a well-known example of a concentrate.
Almost all fruit juices sold in supermarkets have been pasteurized. As for concentrates, that depends on the source. It is pretty common to find unpasteurized apple cider at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. Proponents say that unpasteurized apple cider poses very little risk to consumers.
Believe it or not, some types of seafood are pasteurized prior to retail sale. Lobster and crab meat are at the top of the list. As crustaceans, lobsters and crabs carry bacteria that could make humans sick. That said, proponents of unpasteurized seafood say that cooking both crab and lobster meat takes care of the issue. You may or may not agree with that assertion.
The point of all this is to say that pasteurization is not limited to milk. Producers and manufacturers pasteurize all sorts of foods that carry with them a risk of harmful bacteria. Pasteurization is a fairly straightforward process that is cost-effective and easy to complete.