The process of pasteurization was named after Louis Pasteur who discovered that spoilage organisms could be inactivated in wine by applying heat at temperatures below its boiling point. The process was later applied to milk and remains the most important operation in the processing of milk.


The heating of every particle of milk or milk product to a specific temperature for a specified period of time without allowing recontamination of that milk or milk product during the heat treatment process.

Purpose There are two distinct purposes for the process of milk pasteurization:

  1. Public Health Aspect - to make milk and milk products safe for human consumption by destroying all bacteria that may be harmful to health (pathogens) 
  2. Keeping Quality Aspect - to improve the keeping quality of milk and milk products. Pasteurization can destroy some undesirable enzymes and many spoilage bacteria. Shelf life can be 7, 10, 14 or up to 16 days.

The extent of microorganism inactivation depends on the combination of temperature and holding time. Minimum temperature and time requirements for milk pasteurization are based on thermal death time studies for the most heat resistant pathogen found in milk, Coxelliae burnettiiThermal lethality determinations require the applications of microbiology to appropriate processing determinations. An overview can be found on the next page.

To ensure destruction of all pathogenic microorganisms, time and temperature combinations of the pasteurization process are highly regulated: 

Ontario Pasteurization Regulations

63° C for not less than 30 min.,
72° C for not less than 16 sec.,
or equivalent destruction of pathogens and the enzyme phosphatase as permitted by Ontario Provincial Government authorities. Milk is deemed pasteurized if it tests negative for alkaline phosphatase.

Frozen dairy dessert mix (ice cream or ice milk, egg nog):
at least 69° C for not less than 30 min;
at least 80° C for not less than 25 sec;
other time temperature combinations must be approved (e.g. 83° C/16 sec).

Milk based products- with 10% mf or higher, or added sugar (cream, chocolate milk, etc)
66° C/30 min, 75° C/16 sec

There has also been some progress with low temperature pasteurization methods using membrane processing technology.