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U of T researchers find pasteurization can kill COVID-19 virus in breast milk

The team used the common Holder method of pasteurization to neutralize the virus in donated human milk, so it can be safely fed to babies.
By: Alison Larabie Chase
July 13, 2020
Professors Deborah O'Connor and Sharon Unger. Photo: University of Toronto.

Donated breast milk is often fed to low-birth-weight babies to help them grow and thrive until their mother can make enough of her own milk for them to eat. Researchers at the University of Toronto and Sinai Health wanted to find out whether the Holder method of pasteurization, which is used in all Canadian milk banks to kill other pathogens, would work to destroy the presence of COVID-19 in donated milk. The good news: It works.

The research was done as part of an effort to protect donated human milk supplies, which have been threatened by past pandemics such as HIV/AIDS. The Holder method involves raising the temperature of the milk to 62.5 degrees Celsius and keeping it there for 30 minutes. There are over 650 human milk banks worldwide using this method of pasteurization to make donated milk safe for babies.

The team also found that the COVID-19 virus became weaker after 30 minutes even in the unpasteurized milk. One of the researchers, Deborah O’Connor, chair of nutritional sciences at U of T, has just received funding to research whether there are properties inherent in breast milk that may help to fight the novel coronavirus.

Source: University of Toronto

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