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New pasteurization alternative sanitizes milk without killing good bacteria

milk electron zapping texas 10645428 l
Although pasteurization kills harmful pathogens in raw milk by briefly heating it to 161 degrees Fahrenheit, not everyone is convinced that it’s an entirely positive process. Along with the bad components eliminated through pasteurization, the process also diminishes some of the beneficial ingredients of raw milk, such as an assortment of enzymes and vitamins.

Who would have thought that particle physics could help? Well, evidently researchers from Texas A&M University, because they’ve developed a method for deactivating bacteria in raw milk using an electron beam. The technique reportedly achieves the same bacteria-killing effect as pasteurizing milk, but without actually having to heat it up and therefore getting rid of the white stuff’s good components.

Texas A&M’s proof-of-concept demonstration involved zapping milk with an almost light-speed quantity of electrons using the university’s Electron Beam Linear Accelerator. In previous studies, researchers have found that this process can kill the bad bacteria in milk by affecting it on a DNA level. What the researchers in this new study have shown, however, is that this doesn’t affect the nutritional content of milk like traditional pasteurization does.

After the milk was treated, the only notable decrease in nutrients the researchers found was with riboflavins, which fell by around 32 percent — although the remaining quantity was still enough to make the milk a good riboflavin source. In all other ways, the nutrients were similar to those that you would find in raw milk.

There is one catch, though. Some of the milk fat oxidizes in the process, which also resulted in the production of more than 20 volatile compounds. That sounds more sinister than it actually is — although it had the result of producing a smell that milk doesn’t usually possess. Right now, the team is carrying out further testing to make sure that these volatile components are completely safe.

If they are, and if the researchers can find someone interested in commercializing the technology, then electron beam-treated milk could possibly be hitting grocery store shelves before too long.

Any wagers as to what color bottle cap would denote milk treated by particle physics?

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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