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Ultra-Pasteurized Milk PDF Print E-mail
Written by Linda Joyce Forristal, CTA, MTA   
Sunday, 23 May 2004 16:41

In the Kitchen with Mother Linda

Today, an increasing amount of milk found in conventional grocery stores--including most organic milk--is ultra-pasteurized. The official U.S. government definition of an ultra-pasteurized dairy product stipulates "such product shall have been thermally processed at or above 280° F for at least 2 seconds, either before or after packaging, so as to produce a product which has an extended shelf life under refrigerated conditions." Confusingly, ultra-pasteurized milk is oftentimes referred to as or labeled as UHT, for "ultra-high temperature." It is the high-temperature processing that gives the milk an extended shelf life (ESL).

Why do processors embrace UHT milk? Because today’s milk is no longer a local product; it is processed in huge processing plants and then shipped all over the country. When packaged in aseptic containers, UHT milk remains stable at room temperature for up to six months. Its extended shelf life with refrigeration in standard packaging, such as plastic bottles, is up to 50 days--enough time for it to be shipped across country, or internationally, and sold to customers far from the milk’s origin.


In the commercial processing of UHT milk, raw milk is first preheated to 176-194° F, then submitted to one of two heating methods: direct or indirect. In the direct method, milk is injected with superheated steam or the milk is sprayed into steam. This raises the temperature of the milk immediately, but also slightly dilutes it. The extra water is removed when the milk is subsequently cooled in a vacuum chamber. Indirect heating occurs by bringing milk into contact with super-heated metal plates that have been heated by steam--hence, the steam is "indirectly" heating the milk. Some new systems combine the two processes.

According to Lee Dexter, microbiologist and owner of White Egret Farm goat dairy in Austin, Texas, ultra-pasteurization is an extremely harmful process to inflict on the fragile components of milk. Dexter explains that milk proteins are complex, three-dimensional molecules, like tinker toys. They are broken down and digested when special enzymes fit into the parts that stick out. Rapid heat treatments like pasteurization, and especially ultra-pasteurization, actually flatten the molecules so the enzymes cannot do their work. If such proteins pass into the bloodstream (a frequent occurrence in those suffering from "leaky gut," a condition that can be brought on by drinking processed commercial milk), the body perceives them as foreign proteins and mounts an immune response. That means a chronically overstressed immune system and much less energy available for growth and repair.


Scientists in Australia, a country with a huge dairy industry, have taken the lead in researching UHT milk. A 2002 paper discusses how UHT processing and subsequent storage causes several changes affecting the shelf life of UHT milk. The changes include: whey protein denaturation, protein-protein interaction, lactose-protein interaction, isomerisation of lactose, Maillard browning which imparts a burnt flavor, sulphydryl compound formation, formation of a range of carbonyl and other flavor-imparting compounds, and formation of insoluble substances. According to the authors Datta and Deeth, these changes "ultimately reduce the quality and limit the shelf life of UHT through development of off flavors, fat separation, age gelation and sedimentation." Nevertheless, according to the report, the milk remains "commercially stable."

A thorough reading of their paper reveals a very interesting point. During the heating process, the aforementioned sulphydryl compounds impart a very strong cabbagy off-flavor to UHT milk that is most noticeable immediately after heating. These compounds dissipate during storage, but approximately one month into storage, UHT milk begins to deteriorate and is described in the industry as "stale." In the later stages of storage, a bitter taste develops and then it undergoes "age gelation," a process in which the milk becomes more viscous and eventually loses fluidity. So, it seems the optimum time to drink UHT milk with any degree of enjoyment, if that’s even possible, is limited to the interval between the dissipation of the cabbage flavor and the onset of staleness, bitterness and gelatinous conditions. In the U.S., these off-flavors seem to go unnoticed, which makes me wonder whether some kind of flavorings or other chemicals are being added to UHT milk? If the whole industry does this, they don’t need to list such additives on the label because it is an "industry standard."


UHT milk was introduced by the Italian dairy company Parmalat, which sold UHT milk in aseptic tetra-brik containers as a convenience food to Europeans, most of whom lived in apartments and had small refrigerators. That strategy didn’t work in the U.S., where almost everyone has a large refrigerator and where consumers still value "fresh" milk. In the early 1990s, in order to overcome American consumer resistance to milk that didn’t need to be refrigerated, Parmalat implemented an aggressive marketing plan as well as a strategy to overcome "regulatory impediments," hoping to carve out a niche in the U.S. milk market. While little boxes of Parmalat UHT milk can be found in the grocery aisle, most U.S. milk producers package UHT milk in cartons and plastic bottles identical to those containing pasteurized milk.

While UHT milk remains popular in Europe and Brazil, in the United States, consumer resistance has spurred Horizon and Organic Valley, the major producers of organic milk, to reintroduce pasteurized milk in some locations where they have local sourcing and nearby milk plants. In the Washington, DC area, Horizon sells UHT milk in the supermarkets and pasteurized milk in the upscale markets like Whole Foods.


While the processing of UHT milk creates palatability problems and possible health risks, so does its packaging--both the aseptic boxes and plastic containers. For example, phthalates and other endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) can leach into the milk. In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, investigators measured the presence of nonylphenol (NP), bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (BADGE) in two brands of UHT milk in tetra-brik containers. These containers are designed to be stacked on pallets and are lined with polyethylene. They also looked at EDCs in two brands of milk that had been bottle sterilized (heated to at least 212o F) "for a length of time sufficient to render it commercially sterile" and in one brand of canned powdered infant formula.

All the samples contained measurable levels of endocrine disrupting substances that leaked from the plastic of the containers, or plastic lining the containers. Even when kept cold, plastic will leach some chemicals into the liquid it contains; filling plastic-lined containers with superheated milk or subjecting liquid-filled containers to high heat is a recipe for the release of phthalates and similar substances. The researchers noted that the levels of these compounds in the samples studied did not achieve "the maximum leached level allowed by law." Their concluding comment, however, is more pessimistic: ". . . the impact these compounds may have on organisms and human beings needs to be further studied, especially with regard to accumulation, degradation and possible effects within the endocrine system."


In the fall of 2004, we learned from a dairy inspector in a mid-Atlantic state that the FDA had conducted a nationwide conference call with the dairy departments of all 50 states. There were two reported topics of discussion on the agenda. The first topic concerned raising the required temperature of pasteurization. The stated reason: many organisms have become heat resistant and now survive the pasteurization process. The Johne’s, or paratuberculosis, bacterium, is a good example. Johne’s disease is endemic in today’s confinement dairies and has been linked to Crohn’s disease in humans. Many samples of pasteurized milk now test positive for Johne’s bacteria. B. cereus and botulism spores also survive, as do those of protozoan parasites.

Is the FDA planning to raise the required temperature of pasteurization to that now used in ultra-pasteurization? If so, the agency has not yet published an official plan. The 2005 "Program Priorities" for the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) include finding ways to reduce the incidence of foodborne Listeria outbreaks, which includes continuing to develop and deliver State and Federal (web based) curricula for "Listeria control implementation for manufacturers and retail/food service operators." Whether this is a covert move that will eventually lead to raising the temperature of pasteurization remains to be seen. Such a move would redefine ultra-pasteurization as pasteurization so that the words "ultra-pasteurization" or UHT might then not have to appear on the label. The industry would certainly be happy about such a move, but would consumers? Any major move in this direction requires the FDA to keep the public informed through an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), which should include a period for public comment.

The second reported topic of discussion during the FDA dairy meeting was an organization called the Weston A. Price Foundation. We are definitely on their radar screen!


In the name of science, I decided to do an experiment. I usually make homemade yogurt with a Bulgarian culture and the best quality milk I can find. Raw milk is ideal, but sometimes I have to settle for pasteurized, un-homogenized milk. Both raw and pasteurized, un-homogenized milk produce a firm-textured yogurt with a delectable layer of cream on the top. This time, I bought a quart container of organic Horizon UHT whole milk and cultured it exactly the same way. It took a few hours longer to set up and it never attained the consistency I have come to expect and enjoy. When I tried to spoon some out of the jar, it dissolved into small curds instead of staying in a firm mass on the spoon. It became very watery and unappetizing--and ended up down the sink instead of in my family’s stomach.

At least pasteurized milk will make an acceptable yogurt. Milk that has been sterilized will not. I haven’t noticed the UHT label on any cheese packages either. Since ultra-pasteurized or UHT milk will not adequately support microbial life, it is unlikely that it will adequately support human life either. The fact that the processing and storage of UHT milk is so horrendous makes me wonder why they bother. Fermentation is the best way to extend milk’s shelf life and should be re-examined as a better alternative.



In the 1950s, Italian scientists published studies with titles like "Ultra-pasteurization of milk II. Experimental research on the preservability of ultra-pasteurized and pasteurized milk bottled under the same conditions." Such studies undoubtedly provided the ultra-pasteurization know-how to Parmalat Finanziaria, a company started in 1961 by a young Italian entrepreneur named Calisto Tanzi. Today, Dow Jones ranks Parmalat as the world’s number one producer of UHT milk. While Parmalat’s milk may be "stable," its finances are anything but.

In 2004, Parmalat declared bankruptcy both in Italy and the United States after a major financial crisis that involved efforts to hide huge losses and siphon off money to the founding Tanzi family. Thousands of investors were taken to the cleaners with fancy shell games in the Cayman Islands, a situation that gave Parmalat the name of the European Enron. One such scheme was arrogantly, and appropriately, named Buconero, or black hole.

Shortly after the scandal broke, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Parmalat for selling $1 billion of fraudulent bonds to U.S. investors. On January 7, 2005, although $9 billion in debt and with protests from jilted investors, Parmalat managed to wrangle a $15 million debtor-in-possession credit line from the US Bankruptcy court in Manhattan. Parmalat claimed it needed the line of credit to buy enough fresh milk to keep its dairy operation running and make payroll. Why would any responsible bank lend them this money? A wise man once said, "Owe a little to the bank, and they own you; owe a lot, and you own them."


  1. Datta, Nivedita, Deeth, Hilton, C. et. al., Australian Journal of Dairy Technology. Vol. 57: No 3. (October 2002), Ultra-high-temperature (UHT) treatment of milk: comparison of direct and indirect modes of heating.
  2. Williams, R.P.W., Australian Journal of Dairy Technology, Vol. 57: No. 1 (April 2002), The relationship between the composition of milk and the properties of bulk milk properties.
  3. Datta, Nivedita, Deeth, Hilton, C., Food and Bioproducts Processing: Transactions of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, Vol. 79: Part C, Age Gelation of UHT Milk: A Review.
  4. Fry, M.R., Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting, 1995, Relaunching an old product and awakening consumer interest in improved technology: the Parmalat experience.
  5. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Vol 52, pages 3702-3070, 2004.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2004.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
Boiled milk
written by ss, Dec 16 2013
In India, for thousands of years, we have been boiling the raw milk before drinking it or making yogurt. So while heating denatures proteins, it does not diminish nutritive value of milk. And for yogurt, you add a culture into the sterile milk and it sets beautifully.
Problems with UHT Milk
written by Karla Pengsagun, Sep 28 2013
This information comes from the definitive book,
Thermal Food Processing: New Technologies and Quality Issues edited by Da-Wen Sun

*The levels of ascorbic acid and folic acid are markedly reduced in UHT milk containing a significant level of oxygen during UHT processing and storage (146).
The spores of some species such as the G. Stearothermophilus and B. sporothermodurans are extremely heat resistant and can resist UHT treatment conditions. The latter species is of particular concern to the dairy industy as it is mesophilic and hence can grow at the temperatures at which UHT milk is normally stored. It has already caused the closure of some UHT-processing plants.
*Some heat-induced chemical alternations affect milk nutritional quality (lysine loss, isomerization of all trans retinaol), some of the physical appearances (e.g. casein proteolysis) and others the organoleptic characteristics.
*As regards safety of UHT milk contaminaiton with heat resistant bacteria, aflatoxin, and chemical compounds remain of some concern. The problem here is not so much with termal processing, but with the quality of the raw milk, provided processing and domestic handling procedures are properly preformed. Continuous monitoring seems warranted.

Additionally, from Food Taints and Off-Flavours, edited by M. J. Saxby
*Heat resistant lipases that may have survived from the heat treatment increase considerably the concentration of total free fatty acids during storage (Choi and Jeon, 1993). However most of the fatty acids released are long-chain fatty acids....

And if you are wondering what is wrong with long-chain fatty acids, one example may be:

*Effects of free fatty acids (FFA) on glucose metabolism: significance for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. "Most obese individuals have elevated plasma levels of free fatty acids (FFA) which are known to cause peripheral (muscle) insulin resistance." (source,
written by Kl, Jun 06 2013
UHT has a longer life because it's cleaner when it gets in the retail container. That's all there is to it. Every type of thermal processing changes food, it's not the end of the world and it's not dangerous. The only form of dangerous thermal processing is burning. UHT milk is safe and nutritious and there is no research backing any health claims against it. The same applies to things like concentrated tomato paste, canned goods in general, freezing etc. The bottom line is that these processes actually improve the nutritional value, especially freezing. "Fresh" and raw is good for some things and dangerous for others, but it's only better than these forms of processing if you can eat the food a few hours after collection. But this is never the case because fresh vegetable travels for days before reaching your home and it also stays there for a few days. Get some science behind your opinion please. Read some actual papers that compare frozen vs "fresh", different types of milk, canned vs fresh etc and please don't generalize. I'm a food scientist myself but this is the most common error laymen do. Yes, vitamin X is lost by process Y, but how much is lost and how does it compare to the "fresh" alternative. Don't assume the process used in the industry loses 100% and the "fresh" food loses 0%. This is very rare, and in most cases the processed food has the advantage. Please stop worrying about heating, freezing, and cooking, and put more time into studying what comes with your food in terms of chemicals, refined sugar, colors, preservatives, etc. Heating and freezing allow us to use less chemicals and in most cases, no chemicals at all.
Response to IndyCote
written by Vicg12, May 02 2013
I also suffer from Crohn's, and I just wanted to let you know the bacteria mentioned in the article, as causing Johne's disease, is the same as MAP. Paratuberculosis is the "P" in MAP. I am making sure I only buy Ultra-pasteurized form now on!
health issues in packaging
written by Stephen Miller, Feb 01 2012
This is an interesting article on the health issues in packaging. As packaging professionals who provide packaging solutions to the food industry these are issues that we have to deal with every day. Thanks for a well put together article.
written by Deborah Rojas, Dec 23 2011
I have been living in Guam for the past six months with ABSOLUTELY NO access to raw milk. All milk sold in stores is UHT due to its being shipped from Australia or California. Is it better for us to bypass milk during the next 3 years that we are living here, drink UHT in moderation, or consume it as we would raw milk? We lived in DE and were able to maintain a WAPF diet for the last few years. My body is craving raw milk and fresh eggs. Also, any ideas for getting a cow to Guam that can deal with tropical temps? The University of Guam has a large agricultural program. I'm wondering if perhaps the WAPF could team up with someone there to initiate healthy eating on the island? Thankfully, we have access to a few raw cheeses and Anchor butter that is WAPF approved as excellent. Any suggestions or counsel would be greatly appreciated! Thank you. Deborah Rojas
yogurt article
written by mikki coburn, Nov 24 2011
Hi Mother Linda. In changing computers recently I lost my favorites and was wondering if it possible for you to direct me to an article I either found through your site or WAPF. You wrote about the making of yogurt and how important it is to make it weekly rather than in large amounts to store for many weeks. There was evidence that the probiotics and antibiotic qualities were much higher in homemade yogurt if made weekly. I'd like this article so I can share it with my WAPF chapter. I have been making it weekly since reading this, but need the source to prove this to my group. I agree 100% on not using ultra pasteurized milk; doesn't work well at all; terrible results. I use Organic Pastures raw milk, when it's available, Claravail raw, or Straus' non homogenized, California milk. Thanks!
what to do
written by me, Jul 23 2011
So what kind of milk do I GET. Can't get raw milk where i live. Have a whole foods( what kind of milk do I get there)
UHT during Fukushima Fallout
written by Mic Bava, Apr 23 2011
I have taken to drinking and serving UHT to my children given the fallout from Fukushima that now appears in CA milk such as radioactive iodine and cesium. If you have better ideas, other than ditching milk altogether or leaving the hemisphere ;-) , please let me know!!
I will keep drinking my organic ultra-pasteurized milk anyway, thank you....
written by IndyCote, Jan 30 2011
Six years ago I was suffering with varying degrees of chrohn's disease, my only (short) relief involved high doses of salicylate drugs, steroids and even immuno-suppressants. Then, thankfully, my grandmother sent me a series of articles from the Sat. Eve. Post about the possible benefits of organic ultra-pasteurized milk (they featured Horizon) for sufferers of various gastrointestinal disorders. Apparently, the higher temperature for a longer time process kills a bacteria that seems to be the cause for some sufferers (it was MAP, I believe...I forget the long name). I started right away and have been symptom-free AND even better, PRESCRIPTION free for over five years. I can get my vitamins through other foods as part of a healthy diet...I've read that UHT milk has the same amount of calcium as traditional. May not be the solution for everybody, but it's not as evil as this article made it sound (interesting it did mention another Crohn's causing bacteria as a reason for switching to UHT...hmmm).
very interesting to know........
written by sudeshna ghosh, Dec 08 2010
thank u very much......for knwing about UHT...Its very important for me to knw just d previous day of my xam.......smilies/smiley.gif
Thanks for the Info
written by Jessica, May 13 2010
I live in Florida where it's illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption. It's so hard to find milk that I feel is safe and nutritious for my family.
written by mason, Apr 11 2010
thanks alot for letting me no this . im so mad at how they get away with this its not right. they dont even care about health or how it taste just their i think somebody should do something about it now.
written by John L, Apr 09 2010
Thanks, it is one thing to supply food like this, but it is another to remove traditional foods as well. It irritates me so much to have to work so damn hard to find/eat healthy foods.
New but learning.
written by Sally Weber, Apr 01 2010
Thank you for the important information on UHT and for the courage to inform the general public. I am currently reading Natural cures by Kevin Trueau.
Wow what a eye opener! You can believe from now on that I will read all labels and research all processes and additives before I buy.
written by handa fand, Feb 23 2010
thanks this helped me alot, i was so confused about uht milk

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 June 2009 16:40