The New Home Economics

Buyer-beware: ultra-pasteurized milk


I stopped by Kowalski’s the other night; usually I get groceries at the co-op but the only thing we were out of was milk so I just picked some up there.  Wish I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry: I accidentally brought home ultra-pasteurized milk.

This stuff is useless.  You can’t make cheese or yogurt with it because the proteins have been discombobulated (my technical term) so much that they are unable to act normally.

Why do milk producers, even from Organic Valley, ultra-pasteurize?  Simple!  Longer shelf-life.  The milk I bought earlier this week won’t expire until the middle of April.  In fact, I noticed the expiration date before I noticed the “Ultra Pasteurized” part of the label.

Yesterday I went to Target and took a look at their organic milk, and I couldn’t even find organic milk that was NOT ultra-pasteurized.  Those two for some reason seem to go hand in hand at Target.  I’m guessing this is the reason: people who are paying a premium price for organic milk don’t want to have to throw it out if it goes bad.  So they like the longer shelf-life.  Could that be it?

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t make a habit of drinking this stuff.  Worst case scenario: it’s potentially-toxic junk.  Best case scenario: it could be a greener alternative to milk because it doesn’t require refrigeration.  I lean more towards the former: milk was meant to be drunk with its live enzymes — they are part of what make milk healthy.  Standard pasteurization destroys some of these enzymes, but not enough to completely change the protein structure of the milk.  Destroying them completely — sterilizing the milk — is a waste of a good live food.

Update, 1/24/2011: This continues to be a very popular post, and I know the whole raw milk vs. pasteurized milk issue is very contentious right now.  Let me be absolutely clear: I would not drink raw milk unless I or a close friend owned and hand-milked the cow.  However, I do think there is a qualitative difference between standard pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization, and I much prefer standard.  If you live in or near Minneapolis, MN, you have access to what I consider to be the gold standard for pasteurized, non-homogenized milk: Cedar Summit Farms.  One taste of their milk brings me right back to the milking parlor on Grandpa Rensenbrink’s farm.

Update, 2/27/2013: FINALLY! A study proves that milk from grass-fed cows is better for you.


36 thoughts on “Buyer-beware: ultra-pasteurized milk

  1. I can’t find ANY milk (or cream, which I find particularly annoying because I LOVE creme frais), organic or not, that is not ultra pasteurized. I have made decent yogurt, though, with it (even though I prefer raw). It is one of those issues that I am able to ignore at the moment because my kids can’t have dairy… I don’t (yet!) have to worry about finding a source of good milk. Hopefully by the time I do we’ll have our own goats:)

    • This is interesting. I actually had a salesman from Rockview farms come to our door today about home delivery. I didn’t even know they did this any more, especially in Huntington Beach, Ca. Having a one year old boy and going through a lot of milk, I listened to his sales pitch. I told him we only buy organic milk and asked if they carried that. He told me they not only make it, but they own all their own cows and land, AND their milk is pasteurized NOT ultra-pasteurized. He explained the ultra pasteurization process takes a lot of the good vitamins and enzymes out of the milk and the main reason dairies do this is to extend shelf life. I showed him my Costco milk and he said ” ya see, it’s ultra pasteurized” I thought huh, I never knew the difference. Now I do. Thanks for posting this article, it is very imformative. So I went ahead placed an order for my weekly delivery of organic pasteurized milk for our baby. By the way, this is the dad, not the mom. 🙂

  2. Great article… milk is a complicated subject.

  3. Please do not spread more fear of raw milk! There are great sources available, and it is a much better option than anything pasteurized. Check out FYI I am a consumer, and in no way part of the farming community. I am fortunate to live in CA and able to buy raw milk at my local farmer’s market and some grocery stores. I wish more people could do the same!

    • Wow, I didn’t know I was spreading fear! I just don’t know enough about raw milk to feel comfortable going on record saying “it’s perfectly safe and everyone should drink it!” I wish raw milk enthusiasts wouldn’t lump pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized together — there IS a qualitative difference and that is all I was trying to illustrate with this post.

      Honestly I would try raw milk, but with a full-time job, I just have too many other irons in the fire; driving out to a farm once a week to pick up milk is a little bit unrealistic right now.

      What about all you other readers?

      • I looked and looked to find raw milk that I could purchase. Thankfully I finally found a small Jersey dairy near me who is selling to private consumers. I am thrilled! It is healthier, tastier and keeps easily for one to two weeks in the fridge. Processed milk has mostly only sugar left in it; that’s why vitamins are added back in. It is actually more harmful to your body than helpful.
        The US regulations remove most of the nutrition from our food sources today by over processing and irradiating to a point where store bought food has little nutrition left to offer. I am so disappointed in consumers for not speaking up, objecting, and educating congress and the general public regarding the foolishness and dangers of these most recent practices. A general rule of thumb is that food in its most natural state is healthiest for us to consume.

  4. Raw milk is loaded with bacteria, and in many cases, pathogenic bacteria. Even regular pasteurization leaves around 20,000 living microorganisms in a milliliter of milk that are vegetative cells and heat resistant. The reason milk spoils when left out to room temperature is due to the bacteria becoming more active. When the milk is refrigerated, it slows the bacteria down. Drink sour milk, and you get sick, so you know that these are not necessarily good bacteria. Ultra pasteurization is the only method to truly sterilize milk of all bacteria thus giving it that longer shelf life.

    • I got news for you buddy. If you are looking to kill bacteria before eating anything, you should boil fruits, too. Why, your own skin and stomach contains tons of bacteria, too. So, please don’t spread false from 1890’s when farms did not have known standards and could be dirty. That said, know your farm and buy from a local farmer.

      • Thanks Talisman — you could not be more right. Not sure why I never replied to J. Bacteria are the basis of life. And raw milk never does actually go bad, it just turns into a cottage-cheese-like product. Even pasteurized milk that’s gone sour won’t make you terribly sick (depending on how sour you let it get, I guess). I know from experience: my entire family accidentally drank some sour pasteurized milk the other day and not a single one of us got sick. I felt like a pretty terrible mother though! 🙂

        I can’t even begin to list the gifts that bacteria have given humankind. Let’s start with beer and end with cheese and leave it at that.

    • Generally speaking, you are errant in thinking milk sours because the bacteria in the milk become more active. Pasteurized milk is virtually dead – that is, both good and bacteria have been wiped out in the heating process. It is cooked food, and just like other cooked food is subject to more rapid decomposition from air borne microorganisms than raw. (Think about an apple – a raw apple left on the counter top remains fresh and edible much longer than processed, cooked applesauce under the same conditions).

      I have been drinking raw milk SOLELY for over 2 years. My entire family drinks it as well. We have been sick (colds, allergies, etc) LESS and have NEVER gotten ill from the milk.

      I make my own cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, butter, sour cream, cottage cheese and other dairy products, as needed, from the same gallon of raw milk (well – OK, usually it takes more than 1 gallon!!!). One product from the farm, versus several purchased at the grocery store.

      It is NOT dangerous PROVIDING you know the source farmers (which I do). My provider also has a separate herd that sells commercial milk which is ultimately dumped into a big vat with milk from other farms and is sent on to the supermarket after homogenization and pasteurization (short version of the process). The milk from this herd is tested by USDA regulators (as well as the cow-share herd, because of closed herd regulations); and a lot less often than you might think…

      I will NEVER go back to store bought milk! Organic or otherwise.

      You may want to check this out for general knowledge on the subject of food borne pathogens:

      You are correct, to some degree – but, very wrong in others. Unfortunately, most people are under the same impression – which is far from the truth!

      • RC, I think we’re more in agreement than you assume. Raw milk is not an option for me right now. I live in the city and work full-time. Making my own cheese, buttermilk, sour cream, and other dairy products is something I can only dream of having time to do. I still think there’s a qualitative difference between pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized milk, but I agree that raw milk is probably the ideal, for those who have access to a local and trustworthy source of it.

    • Raw milk SOURS. Pasteurized milk SPOILS. Understand the difference and you’ll increase your knowledge about nutrition.

      • Cooked vegetables will also degrade spoil/rot differently according to whether they are cooked or raw. Do you only eat RAW vegetables????? Of course not. Annie C., you should really look into the major differences between raw and pasteurized milk before you “parrot” false information spread by WAPF and their followers.

    • Hey listen Howard Hughs, I hate to disillusion you but the entire world is teeming with bacteria and your ultra pasteurized milk after it is opened immediately starts to grow a bacterial load again. Raw milk is however easier to digest as it already has the enzyme to breakdown the proteins on board. You are better able to digest and use its nutrients without having allergic reactions to its denatured proteins

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  7. Interesting points, but some facts should be noted. The following was used as my source ( ), but if you simply google “milk enzymes” you will find a number of other resources reiterating these points. Most all of the bacteria in milk are pathogens, and not probiotics, like you might find in yogurt, so these are not exactly life-supporting bacteria that are being killed off by the pasteurization process, as Jennifer seems to believe (I’ve seen claims that state otherwise, but I haven’t yet seen factual backing). The enzymes are much more interesting. The enzymes need to digest milk are already present in the human body, and so milk’s enzymes are quite insignificant in the digestion of milk. However, it is still unclear what the functions of many of the other enzymes in raw milk are, but most studies seem to indicate that they aid in the absorption of calcium. (I won’t list the studies I drew from, but you can just google “milk enzyme calcium absorption”). Thus, it would be reasonable to think that, at least for now, the human body could draw more nutrition from raw milk than from its pasteurized equivalent. Conversely, raw milk contains more pathogens than pasteurized milk, so to me there is essentially a trade off between the two different kinds. There really is no concrete evidence that pasteurized milk is bad for you, only that raw milk might be better for you (at least nutritionally, at the expense of your immune system). Hopefully more research will be done to conclusively determine the benefits of raw milk’s enzymes (remember, one study does not represent conclusive evidence).

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Warren. I get pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), non-homogenized milk from a local grass-based dairy farm.

      I’m still waiting for firm scientific confirmation of my hunch that ultra pasteurized is worse than pasteurized. As I’ve said before, I’d only go raw if I lived in the country and personally knew a nearby farmer or better yet, if I had my own cow.

  8. I have heard that the reason they ultra pasteurize organic milk is because it isn’t produced throughout the country, so it needs to be shipped long distances. The longer shelf life gives the milk enough time to be shipped and purchased, so the consumer doesn’t have to throw it out within 2 or 3 days.

  9. The difference between ultra and regular pasteurized milk is negligible. The biggest difference is in taste and I find some of the ultra tasting better. As far as homogenization goes, your body will homogenize the fats anyway and if you are drinking goats milk it is essentially already homogenized.
    I think the reason some of the ultras taste better is because you are getting it and it has not start to degrade like regular pasteurized milks do.

    Personally I switch between raw and pasteurized depending on time constraints. But since raw is just as expensive as the store bought organics I would rather opt for raw.

    As an aside, I think the reason you can not make cheese from the ultra is because of the ZERO enzyme count not the protein. That is why most cheese add cultures and/or enzymes now to make them.

  10. Pingback: Why I gave up milk – Nutrition | Couchcricket

  11. Thought you and your readers might be interested in this recent research presented at the BC Center for Disease Control May 16, 2013 – a presentation entitled “Raw Milk: Myths and Evidence”. Independent researcher Ms. Nadine Ijaz synthesized the research and discovered that Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (the gold standard in food safety research), shows raw milk is actually a low-risk food.

    If one gets sick from food, the chance that the cause is green leafy vegetables is 20%, whereas the chance that the cause is dairy, both pasteurized and raw combined, is 1-6%. Yet the messaging around green leafy vegetables is that we should not be eliminating vegetables from our diet.

    Anyway, her presentation is here:
    My summary of her presentation, should you not have the time to view it, is here:

    Thank you for your article. The difference between ultra pasteurized and pasteurized is very important.


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  13. I live in Nevada. Are there any small dairies here that do not ‘ultra pasteurize’? Where can I find a list of sources for standard pasteruized milk?

    • Good question, Betty. Your best bet would be to find a health foods store or natural foods co-op and start asking questions. If anyone’s going to stock a small dairy’s products, it’s them. You could also do some googling to see if there are any CSAs in your area that offer milk. Good luck!

  14. It is not the producers of the milk that want ultra pasteurization, it is the processor.

  15. I’ll bet you didn’t know about this —->

    What about radiation in milk?

    That’s right.

    This radiation came from past atomic testing, nuclear meltdowns like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and is released from nuclear power plants in their daily operations!

    Do some research on these “radioisotopes” which have been found in milk:

    Strontium-90 (causes bone cancer)
    Cesium-137 (causes all kinds of cancers)
    Iodine-131 (causes Thyroid problems and cancer)

    Pro-nuclear promoters will say that the amounts are “small” but many doctors and researchers say there is NO safe dose of this type of radiation.

    You can learn a lot more about this at

    And for example this article in Forbes magazine about the radiation from Japan’s nuclear meltdowns found in U.S. milk and water:

    And watch this youtube video shows how radiation from Japan’s nuclear meltdowns blanketed the U.S.

    youtube /watch?v=yuUYUJwNmag

  16. I know this is an old post, but I wanted to comment since it’s still being read.

    For years my family had dairy goats. They were healthy and we kept them clean and had no concerns about drinking raw milk. One morning my favorite little doe came running up to me and seemed to be leaning to one side. When she ate the grain fell out of her mouth and within hours half her body was paralyzed like a stroke. The vet thought she had some sort of virus from a mosquito. In spite of all our efforts to nurse her back to health she died. We had an autopsy done and were horrified to learn her brain was full of lesions and she’d died of listeria.

    Since we had drunk her milk when she was infected but not showing any symptoms, several of my family members also developed encephalitis from the listeria. Fortunately none of us died, but we were very ill and still have health problems caused by that infection (mainly pituitary damage). We kept trying to find the source, and one day I noticed some raccoons washing their food in our stock tank. There were sheep in another pasture, and almost all sheep carry listeria in their manure. So our best guess was that the raccoons had traveled through the pasture, picked up the bacteria on their paws, then washed it off into our stock tank.

    I love raw milk. I think it is far better for you health-wise than pasteurized milk because of the enzymes that help you utilize all the great protein and vitamins and minerals in milk. But I will not buy it and even if I had my own animals again I don’t think I would drink it without pasteurizing it first.

    What I keep hoping is that someone will make a product similar to Lact-Aid except with the enzymes that are destroyed when milk is pasteurized. We could put that into the milk we buy, let it sit in the fridge for a day to populate the whole carton or jug, and then drink it. I have even spoken to some enzyme manufacturers and it is definitely a possibility. I don’t have the means to fund the development and packaging, but perhaps someone will take it on in the future.

    • Karen, what a thoughtful reply! This is indeed an old post, and although I now have access to raw milk through a farm-buying co-op in my neighborhood, I *still* haven’t taken the plunge and tried it. I am so lucky to live in the heart of dairy country where we have access and options to really great milk, even if it is lightly pasteurized. We are still buying and loving Cedar Summit Farms milk, which is 100% grass-fed and only pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized). I recently started making my own kefir with it, and it even works great for that. Thank you for sharing your story; it’s so nice to hear from someone who has real experience.

  17. Pasteurized is fine with me… I don’t like listeria while pregnant

  18. I buy Organic Valley whole milk products even though the gallon size doesn’t ultra pasteurize but to me it tastes watered down. It is a disgrace that this once excellent company ultra pasteurizes their organic half and half and some of their 1/2 gallon milk sizes. I have decided to boycott this organic company for that reason and so glad to find out the Smith Brother’s Farm delivers in my area. They only sell organic milk in 1/2 gallon sizes but only pasteurized. They carry half and half non-organic pasteurized only but will start producing organic in November. The milk is delivered within 24 – 48 hours from the milking so it will be much fresher than store bought milk. I can’t wait to try this milk and have it delivered right to my door. I am willing to forgo organic half and half right now because the one that is ultra-pasteurized doesn’t make my coffee tastes too good. I will never buy ultra-pasteurized products if I can help it. Organic Valley has gone way up in price…..$6.99 for a gallon of milk and $3.99 for a quart size of their disgusting organic ultra pasteurized half and half. I am even willing to pay more form Smith Brothers fresher quality milk that doesn’t ultra pasteurize.

  19. It’s not always about shelf life. For some people, ultra pasteurization is the only thing that allows them to drink/use milk. I have a family member who LOVED drinking milk until she figured out that it was what was making her feel like crap. It’s due to the proteins. She now wants to move to Canada or Europe where all milk (and thus milk products) are ultra-pasteurized. She is thrilled when I come back from England bringing chocolate that she can actually eat.

  20. Not true! People make yogurt all the time using the cold start method in their Instant Pots. There are hundreds of posts about it. They make tons of yogurt with ultrapastuerized milk.

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