Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pasteurized milk and irradiated food

If you're reading this, you may ask "What does the pasteurization of milk and the irradiation of vegetables have to do with low-carb?". That's a fair question.

I think part of eating low-carb is understanding that there is a lot of misinformation out there about food and that our food supply has some fundamental flaws which we have covered up rather than fixing.

For those of you who don't know what irradiating food is about, check this out.

My wife recently brought my daughter to the pediatrician and asked the doctor what she thought about giving my daughter unpasteurized milk because we had found a local organic farm where we could buy it. I read about some of the benefits of drinking unpasteurized milk and I want what's best for my daughter.

The doctor's response to the idea of my daughter consuming unpasteurized milk was "absolutely not" and that it was "simply not an option" because of the possibility of illnesses that could be contracted from unpasteurized milk. While I think the doctor's concern is an overreaction, I will concede to her recommendations. I won't risk my daughter's life to prove a point about unpasteurized milk, but unpasteurized is the only kind of milk I'll drink.

The doctor's reaction got me thinking about all the cases of foodborne illness we've seen in the past years. Salmonella and E.coli has been found in all kinds of things from peanut butter, to tomatoes, and raw spinach. We obviously can't have any illusions about the safety of our food supply. Some of the healthiest foods we have access to are being contaminated with dangerous microorganisms.

Obviously raw cow's milk is not in and of itself dangerous to consume, it's the microorganisms that contaminate it that are what put us in danger. So instead of preventing contamination and encouraging safer collection practices from smaller more easily managed farms, we should cook the hell out of the milk we collect to make it more safe while destroying some of the beneficial components of milk.

I can tell that you're not buying what I'm selling. You're saying that pasteurized and unpasteurized milk can't be all that different. I won't bore you with tons of facts about what is and isn't in milk after you pasteurize it, mostly because I don't have those facts. The one fact I do have is that unpasteurized milk does have lactase, the enzyme needed for digesting lactose. Many people who are lactose intolerant (most of the world) can drink unpasteurized milk because of this difference. If lactase is destroyed in pasteurization, then what else is lost?

If unpasteurized milk is "not an option" because of concerns about foodborne illness, then what happens when the food supply becomes so consistently tainted that not eating irradiated food becomes "not an option" because you just can't risk eating some fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats that might be tainted with some sort of pathogen. Better yet, perhaps we should all eat only foods that are so highly processed that they no longer resemble the foods from which they came.

While the proponents of irradiating food suggest that there is no difference in the food before and after irradiation, then explain to me how the living tissue of the food being irradiated is not affected, but the dangerous microorganisms are completely destroyed.

What do you think?



Jim Purdy said...

Thought-provoking stuff. Thanks. I used to drink lots of raw milk, and never had a problem.

Stargazey said...

Welcome back to blogging, Alex!

You asked, "...explain to me how the living tissue of the food being irradiated is not affected, but the dangerous microorganisms are completely destroyed."

As I understand it, irradiation destroys some of the bonds in DNA. That makes it difficult/impossible for irradiated cells to replicate. Unless you're a Klingon, your food is really no longer alive. Neither it nor the cells in it have the ability to reproduce anymore. Damaging the DNA of our food has no important effect on the food itself. (Once we eat the food, our digestive processes will break up the DNA even more efficiently, so doing it a bit early is not dangerous.)

The microorganisms in our food are, however, still alive and able to reproduce. In fact, human food makes an ideal culture medium for them. Damaging their DNA means that they are no longer able to reproduce and produce the toxins that will make us sick. DNA irradiation does not completely destroy dangerous microorganisms in the sense that it makes them disappear, but it does render them unable to reproduce because their DNA has been so badly damaged.

Alex said...


I've been drinking raw milk occasionally and I remember that my dad and I drank it when we were younger.

Glad you enjoyed it.


Alex said...


Thanks for the info on irradiation. I'll have to read more about it to better understand it.

LOL, a Klingon!

Perhaps its irrational fear on my part, but altered/damaged DNA sounds like a bad idea to me.

If my food (fruits & vegetables) isn't alive, how does it manage to ripen? Isn't the ripening process an activity of living cells?

To this point, from what I understand, irradiated fruits do not ripen as fruits that have not been irradiated.

So I guess I would contest the "living" status of some of my food.

I guess I'm thinking that I try to stay away from foods that are likely to oxidize or have oxidized because they're more likely to cause alterations in my cells DNA through introductions of free radicals into my system. Likewise, I want to try to avoid consuming altered DNA as well. Maybe there is no scientific rationale, but it seems like a prudent approach.

I guess I may be approaching this as if you're advocating irradiation, which I don't think you have.

Thanks for explaining it to me.

It's good to be back.


Stargazey said...

altered/damaged DNA sounds like a bad idea to me

It is, if you are talking about your own cells, within your own body. But when we talk about food, we are NOT what we eat. Digestion breaks everything down into its constituent molecular pieces. (That's individual nucleic acids in the case of DNA.) Intermediary metabolism assembles the pieces into whatever we need to build our bodies or to provide them with energy. (Which is why we never turn into a stalk of broccoli, no matter how much broccoli we eat.)

As far as irradiation producing free radicals, I don't know about that. Do you have a reference on it?

To start another argument (LOL!) I have watched cows being milked. Let's just say that E. coli contamination is always a possibility. For people who are healthy, drinking the milk should be no particular problem. But if the milk is given to immune-compromised people or if it is allowed to sit around longer than it should, drinking it without pasteurization could be a problem. In my hunble (?) opinion, it's up to the individual whether or not to take the risk.

Alex said...


I definitely don't have any source or information to insinuate that irradiated food or cells can cause/contribute to free radical production. I was simply trying to draw a parallel.

I can see how contamination could be an issue, but the good news is that unpasteurized milk tends to spoil much more quickly than pasteurized, so it's unlikely to sit around for too long. Also, a farmer who knows that his milk is to be consumed raw will be more cognizant of contamination and the risk that it brings to the consumer.

I guess this is a lot like the warning that we should cook all meat until it is like shoe leather so we won't get sick from the contamination caused by sloppy butchering of the animal carcass.

I guess for me the bottom line is that I'd rather have someone try really hard not to get fecal material in my food than advise me to make sure I cook my feces filled food thoroughly so I don't get sick.

Stargazey said...

Dairy farmers are not microbiologists. Neither are the employees of slaughterhouses. I'm not saying that you shouldn't drink raw milk or eat rare steaks. I have drunk raw milk and do eat rare steaks. But it's important to realize that there is always a finite risk of contamination. At least that's how I see it.

Alex said...


I didn't get the impression that you were advocating avoiding rare steak or raw milk.

I can agree that there is obviously potential for contamination regardless of the precautions taken.

My concern is that the necessary care is not taken in these risky situations because the safety net of pasteurization, cooking meats to high temperatures, and irradiating foods is there to make up for the carelessness of those handling our food.

Rent to Own said...

Here is a website I go to for dairy products which are raw. I bought their milk and other products. Their shipping is a bit pricey, but I trust their quality.


George Pragovich
Cancer Recovery and Fitness Specialist
Trainer of Personal Trainers

Alex said...

Thanks for the info RTO,

Personally I wouldn't buy my raw dairy products from anyone I didn't know personally.

When I buy my raw dairy products, I buy from a local farmer who I can talk to and whose farm I can walk around.

I think the potential for contamination of raw milk is so serious that one has to make sure they can trust whoever they're getting their milk from. If you can trust the link you attached, cool, but I wouldn't feel comfortable getting it from someone I wasn't sure I could trust.