Milk from Farm to Fridge
by Erin Williams
Have you ever stopped and thought about how the milk sitting in your refrigerator got there? Sure it went from the dairy case to your shopping cart and then finally to your fridge – but the process started long before that.
The travel of milk from farm to fridge begins in the barn and milking parlor. Nutritionists, veterinarians and farmers work together to ensure that all cows are healthy and comfortable so they produce a quality product. On most dairy farms, cows are milked two or three times a day, depending on the farmer’s preference. Milk is tested on farm for antibiotic residue and is only the first of many stringent safety and quality tests the milk will go through. It takes less than 48 hours for milk to travel from the farm to the processing facility.
When the raw milk is received at the processing plant it is tested again for any antibiotics before it is even unloaded. Any milk that tests positive for antibiotics is disposed of immediately. Milk processing is a three-step process to ensure safety and quality: Pasteurization. Standardization. Homogenization.
The first step is pasteurization. With standard pasteurization, milk is heated to a temperature of at least 161°F for not less than 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling. All milk intended for direct consumption should be pasteurized — it’s a matter of food safety.
The second step is standardization. Standardization is how the different milk varieties are made — fat-free, 1%, 2%, whole milk — by managing the amount of fat in each product. Get the facts about the different varieties of milk by checking out my Milk Cheat Sheet blog.
The final step is homogenization. Homogenization keeps milk texture consistent. This way the cream doesn’t separate and rise within the milk.
Once milk goes through that three-step process it is bottled and tested for the third and final time. Even finished products are tested before leaving the processing facility to confirm safety and assure quality.