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Cow’s Milk: The Process to Get to You

Image of milk on a shelf in a grocery store

If you read Milk on My Mind’s last blog, Milk Dumping: The Dairy Industry in Crisis, we covered the controversial topic of milk dumping amid the COVID-19 crisis. Here we covered, among other things, the fact that milk is one of the most highly regulated foods on the market. And, given today’s landscape, it makes perfect sense. Everyone is rightfully paying special attention to sterilization and cleanliness during the current situation.

In this blog, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into milk’s journey from the farm to your fridge and explore the meticulous and necessary processes that keep our milk safe and delicious, including pasteurization and homogenization.

From Farm to Processing Plant

Before milk arrives to a processing plant, its journey begins on a dairy farm. First, cows enter the milking area to be, well, milked. The cow’s teats are sanitized and cleaned before the milking machine is attached. Milk leaves the cows at a body temperature of 101 degrees and is transferred to a holding tank via pipes that are sanitized and cleaned between each milking cycle. Once the milk reaches the holding tank, it is instantly cooled to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Every day or every other day, the raw milk is picked up from the farm by an insulated and refrigerated milk truck. Before being pumped into the truck, several samples are taken to ensure the milk is safe and healthy.

Yes, it’s a meticulous and curated process. However, that’s just the beginning.

Once the milk arrives at the processing plant via the truck, it is tested yet again before it is pumped into the insulated silos at the plant for processing. See what we mean when we say milk is one of the most highly regulated foods out there?

The Pasteurization Process

Next up is the pasteurization process. Here, chilled raw milk is heated by passing between hot stainless-steel plates until the milk reaches a temperature of 161 degrees Fahrenheit. It is then held at that high temperature for at least 15 seconds before it is quickly cooled back down to its original temperature of 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pasteurization is a necessary step in milk’s journey as raw milk can harbor bacteria. This process ensures that the milk you purchase for your family is safe and bacteria-free.

The Homogenization Process

Finally, we arrive at the last step: the homogenization process. This is a simple process in which the now-pasteurized milk is mixed using a high-pressure procedure to break down particles in order to disperse the milkfat. When the mixing is complete, the tiny particles stay suspended in the milk to create a more uniform mixture. Milk is homogenized, not for taste, but to prevent separation.

This is the final step in the careful and precise scientific process.

After being homogenized, the milk is then bottled and cooled. An insulated, refrigerated truck delivers the bottled milk to your local grocery store within 48 hours, ready for your purchase and consumption.

Safe Milk During COVID-19

As you have read, milk’s journey is a regulated one, with multiple checkpoints in place to maintain its safety and integrity. However, despite all these processes, milk is never touched by human hands. Take comfort in the fact that regardless of the current health crisis, milk is still a safe and nutritional staple in your refrigerator. From the cow’s udder to your kitchen table, milk is tested continuously so that consumers receive only the safest, cleanest and most wholesome food possible.