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Breastfeed Med. 2011 Jun;6(3):111-6. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2010.0078. Epub 2010 Nov 23.

Effect of flash-heat treatment on antimicrobial activity of breastmilk.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of California Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, California 95817, USA.



The World Health Organization recommends human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive mothers in resource-poor regions heat-treat expressed breastmilk during periods of increased maternal-to-child transmission risk. Flash-heat, a "low tech" pasteurization method, inactivates HIV, but effects on milk protein bioactivity are unknown. The objectives were to measure flash-heat's effect on antimicrobial properties of lactoferrin, lysozyme, and whole milk and on the digestive resistance of lactoferrin and lysozyme.


Flash-heated and unheated breastmilk aliquots from HIV-positive mothers in South Africa were "spiked" with Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli and then cultured for 0, 3, and 6 hours. Lysozyme and lactoferrin activities were determined by lysis of Micrococcus luteus cells and inhibition of enteropathogenic E. coli, respectively, measured spectrophotometrically. Percentages of proteins surviving in vitro digestion, lactoferrin and lysozyme activity, and bacteriostatic activity of whole milk in heated versus unheated samples were compared.


There was no difference in rate of growth of E. coli or S. aureus in flash-heated versus unheated whole milk (p = 0.61 and p = 0.96, respectively). Mean (95% confidence interval) antibacterial activity of lactoferrin was diminished 11.1% (7.8%, 14.3%) and that of lysozyme by up to 56.6% (47.1%, 64.5%) by flash-heat. Digestion of lysozyme was unaffected (p = 0.12), but 25.4% less lactoferrin survived digestion (p < 0.0001).


In summary, flash-heat resulted in minimally decreased lactoferrin and moderately decreased lysozyme bioactivity, but bacteriostatic activity of whole milk against representative bacteria was unaffected. This suggests flash-heated breastmilk likely has a similar profile of resistance to bacterial contamination as that of unheated milk. Clinical significance of the decreased bioactivity should be tested in clinical trials.

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