April 2018



In the field of food safety, Louis Pasteur is often the name that first comes to mind for the thermal process he developed in the 1860s to keep milk from spoiling. But by the early 20th century, infant mortality rates had risen to 40%, with pathogens in raw milk a huge contributor to diseases such as typhoid and scarlet fever. The public hadn’t embraced the pasteurization process because it altered the milk’s taste. Even though it meant saving lives, such a basic change was difficult to implement.

In 1906, MILTON J. ROSENAU (1869 – 1946) perfected the process with slower heating over lower temperatures, removing the obstacle to public adoption. His 1912 book The Milk Question argued that next to water sanitation, pasteurization was the single most significant public health measure.

On its own, a single brilliant idea is often not enough. Public health professionals must focus not just on scientific evidence but also on earning public acceptance of new discoveries.

Rosenau as Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We find monuments erected to heroes who have won wars, but we find none commemorating anyone’s preventing a war. The same is true with epidemics.”

Rosenau was a Harvard Medical School professor and one of the three founders of the 1913 Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (Harvard-M.I.T. collaboration) that ultimately evolved into the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1936, he helped to establish the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – the first ever at a public university – and became its first dean.