Milk Carton: What’s Inside?

Surprisingly, this turns out to be a very controversial issue. Milk in a carton or plastic jug may be low-fat, reduced-fat, or whole. It may be Grade A or Grade B milk. It may be with Vitamin A, or Vitamin D added. It may be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, ultra-filtered, or micro-filtered. It may be organic, conventional, or lactose-free. It may be chocolate or strawberry milk, after all! Are all of these kinds of milk the same as raw milk? Definitely not! They may look the same or almost the same when poured into a glass. But they are unlikely the same product.

What is milk?

Milk is a nutrient-rich liquid food produced by the mammary glands of mammals. (Wikipedia) This white stuff is precisely what you can find in a milkmaid’s bucket. But is this the same thing that you brought home from the store? The store-bought milk is quite different from the milk we got from the cow’s udders and even more processed than we think!

Whole milk is what we get straight from the cow. The fat percentage of raw milk may vary and depends on the breed of the cow, the feeding diet, health, lactating period, and even on a season of the year. Fat content brings flavor and texture to milk and usually is around 4%. It might be difficult to find raw milk, and it is illegal to sell in some states.

So, a cow gives us milk. Milk comes out of a cow with a temperature of about 100 F. It is collected in bulk tanks and cooled there to about 38 F.

What is the further journey of commercial milk?

After transportation to the processing factory, milk passes through the separator, which removes debris, sediment, and some bacteria, and separates milk into two fractions – skim milk and fat. After that, it undergoes pasteurization, homogenization,  and other processing.

Hygienically inferior environmental conditions (shortcomings in daily cleaning and disinfection of milking equipment) are usually the main reasons for milk pasteurization. During the pasteurization, process milk is quickly heated to 167 F for about 15 seconds and immediately cooled back down. This helps to kill harmful micro-organisms, rancidity-causing enzymes, and harmful bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. But do you know that milk remains potentially unprotected even after pasteurization? Staphylococcus may be found both in pasteurized and raw milk! Therefore, I am sure that only low-quality milk should be pasteurized!

What happens to milk after pasteurization?

Then milk undergoes standardization. A particular part of the fat is returned back to the milk and standardized it to skimmed (fat-free), low-fat (1%), reduced-fat (2%), or whole (3.25%). I believe that whole milk is supposed to be milk with the same amount of fat as before. But standardization means modification.

Homogenized, not-cream line milk!

Non-homogenized milk separates into layers, so homogenization stops the cream from separating again. This process also extends milk shelf life. That’s why all commercial milk is homogenized, and it is the most harmful process. Under extreme pressure and high speed, milk passes through tiny passages with a piston pump. In this way, the fat breaks down into countless small particles, too small to be separated from the liquid.

What else? There will be filtering, clarification, bactofugation, deaeration. And with each process, milk is heated over and over again! Milk loses its nutrients during processing. Therefore, they add Vitamins A and D to it, naturally found in raw milk. Or, to impart flavor, they add some artificial substances to milk.

Then milk travels through pipes to the packaging machines that fill the cartons or plastic jugs. An inert gas is then injected into the top of the package to ensure longer shelf life.

What kind of milk is nutritious and safe?

 

Consumers buy organic because they believe it is a healthier choice. However, even organic, commercial milk is still processed food! Without a doubt, milk reaches supermarkets shelves possibly after two weeks after milking. So by the time you put the milk inside your fridge, it can be, in fact, up to several weeks old and much more processed than you may expect!

When buying milk, people are confident that it is nutritious and safe. But healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals remain intact only in raw milk. Real, raw milk is a nutritional powerhouse!

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