Food Science: What's the Deal with Ultra-Pasteurization?

Regular pasteurization we can understand and even get on board with to a certain extent. Since the vast majority of our milk is still pooled from several different sources, it makes sense to take some health precautions. But ultra-pasteurization? What's that all about?

In the ultra-pasteurization process, milk or cream is sent through pipes where it's heated almost instantaneously to around 280° and then cooled again almost as quickly. This is as compared to the regular pasteurization process which heats milk to a minimum of 162° for fifteen seconds.

On the one hand, ultra-pasteurization means that enormous quantities of milk can be processed much more quickly than any other pasteurization (or safety regulation) process. The milk is also shelf-stable for several months.

On the other hand, the treatment changes the taste and texture of the dairy. The high heat inactivates many of the flavor components in raw milk and adds its own cooked flavor. The process also affects whey proteins that contribute to the thick creaminess of dairy. In order to compensate, congealing agents like guar gum and carrageenan are added to ultra-pasteurized dairy to duplicate the original viscosity.

Given all this, we have to wonder if ultra-pasteurization is really necessary? From everything we can surmise, the answer is "no." It's convenient for dairy producers, but it doesn't make milk and cream any safer than regular pasteurization.

What do you think?

Related: Food Science: What is Homogenization?

(Image: Flickr member LFL16 licensed under Creative Commons)