Milk: A Shopper’s & User’s Guide
Milk may be the first item on your shopping list, but it’s the last item you should put in your cart before you head to the checkout lane.[jwplayer config=”movieplayer” file=”http://thedairydish.org/media/milkMovie.mp4″ image=”http://thedairydish.org/media/milkMovie.jpg”]
When buying milk from the grocery store, most of us don’t realize that the last leg of milk’s journey from the cow—the trip from the grocery store to a home’s refrigerator—can make a difference in freshness and flavor. Milk stays fresh longer and tastes best when it’s cold. And once milk is removed from the refrigerated case at the grocery store—it’s up to the consumer to get it home and into the refrigerator as quickly as possible to continue the high level of care that began at the dairy farm.
As cows are milked on a dairy farm, the milk is immediately piped into a refrigerated bulk tank where it’s cooled and kept at 38-45°F. Then, the milk is piped into a refrigerated milk tanker truck and transported to the dairy processing plant for pasteurization (to kill harmful bacteria), homogenization (to disperse fat particles evenly for a smooth, uniform texture) and packaging. The packaged milk is stored briefly in a refrigerated warehouse until it’s transported in refrigerated trucks to grocery stores.
Milk in the grocery store has passed at least a dozen quality and safety checkpoints, starting at the dairy farm. Dairy farmers and state and federal government agencies take strict measures to keep milk cold and free of disease-causing organisms; and to ensure that milk (regular or organic) does not contain illegal antibiotic residues or unsafe pesticide residues. The numerous sanitation, safety and quality procedures involved in milk production, transport and processing make milk one of the most highly regulated and safest foods available to consumers.
That’s where you come in. Here’s how to keep the high-quality, fresh milk that you purchase from the grocery store at it’s best for your optimal enjoyment:
- When grocery shopping, put milk and other refrigerated products in your cart last.
- Drive directly home. If it’s a long trip, consider keeping a cooler in your car.
- When unpacking groceries, immediately put milk in the refrigerator. Place it in the refrigerator’s interior where it’s colder, not in the refrigerator’s door compartments.
- Maintain the temperature of the refrigerator between 35 and 40°F. Purchase a refrigerator/freezer thermometer, keep in the refrigerator, and check it occasionally.
- After pouring milk, return it immediately to the refrigerator. Don’t leave milk on the counter or table. Never pour unused milk back into the container.
- If properly cared for, milk should stay fresh 2-3 days after the “sell by” or “pull by” date on the container.
- Freezing milk is not recommended as it causes undesirable changes to milk’s texture and appearance.
“Modern Dairy Farming Practices and Milk Quality: Myths & Facts”, Dairy Council Digest, May/June 2007:
Milk Fact Sheet: