Safe Handling of Raw Milk: Keep it Fresh!

raw milk safety

If you’re a raw milk consumer or producer, this is information you need to read! The following is a summary (with comments – how can I refrain?) of the Consumers’ Guide to Fresh, Whole, Unprocessed Milk: Safe Handling by Peggy Beals, RN

“There are numerous factors in the management and handling of fresh, unprocessed milk that differ from that of commercially processed milk.” i.e. Raw milk is just NOT the same as store milk! (Photo source)

There are all sorts of things that the farmer can and should do on the farm to keep raw milk safe and healthy for his customer. That’s not what I’m here to talk about. Once you’ve decided to go with a raw milk share or purchase raw milk, you as a consumer need to know how to keep your milk the freshest and safest possible. We are new to raw milk as of January, so we’re still learning. This was really helpful info!

Need to learn more about how to use raw milk? Try GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals, a multimedia course with videos, text files, and teacher interaction to help you through the new frontier of traditional foods.

The Cold Chain

“A fundamental tenet of handling fresh, unprocessed milk is to maintain what California Organic Pastures dairy farmer Mark McAfee calls the “cold chain”. This aspect of risk management begins with the immediate rapid cooling of milk after milking and continues through all the steps of dispensing, transport and storage. The ideal goal for home storage is to hold milk between 35 and 38 degrees F. There must be no break in the cold chain.”

This means that your milk cannot get above 38 degrees F, even in your car on your x-minute drive home from the farm in 90-degree summer heat. Can you make that guarantee? Only if you take certain precautions.

Our dairy farm is very good about reminding the cow share customers to use their coolers and ice packs, (all the time) especially in the summer months.

Glass containers are preferred


  • Can get them sparkling clean
  • Keeps milk colder than plastic
  • (although seamless stainless steel is even better)

What kind of glass?

  • Only tempered glass (no shattering)
  • Best size:  two quarts (1/2 gallon) or smaller are best because they cool faster than gallons, are easier to handle and keep cold evenly.
  • Our milk comes in gallon jars, so it would be advisable to transfer to half gallon size or quarts upon coming home.
  • Plastic lids are the best, because metal lids rust and get dings and then shouldn’t be used for food anymore.

How to clean containers

Milk jars should be VERY clean to prevent contamination! Milk dries almost clear, so even with glass you might miss a spot. “An incompletely clean bottle that has been capped for a while will have a definitely odor when opened.”

  • Rinsing or soaking empty bottles right away helps a lot. Lukewarm water will remove most milk and cream.
  • Do not use hot water first, because it will “set” the milk proteins, gradually forming a film that can cause odor and souring of your milk.
  • If you’re going to use the dishwasher for the jars, rinse and rub them first with cold and/or lukewarm water.
  • If you’re handwashing the jars, still begin with lukewarm water before plunging the jar into hot dishwater.
  • Be sure to use a bottle brush if your hand is too large to fit into your jar.

Milk should still taste good after 7-10 days; if not, troubleshoot with your farmer:

  1. Are others having the same problem?
  2. Is the milk being chilled quickly and immediately and traveling to your home without a break in the cold chain?
  3. Very hard water can make an impact.
  4. Try disinfecting the jars (see below).

Sanitizing Milk Jars

  • Air dry in the direct sunlight, minimum of 20 minutes, best between 10-2:00.
  • Place drained jars in a warm but turned-off oven (after baking something would work, just make sure the temp is not over 150 degrees F). Obviously don’t include the plastic lids.
  • Metal lids can be disinfected with boiling water and put in the oven to dry.
  • Make sure bottles are completely dry before capping for storage.
  • May use dishwasher to sanitize; wide-mouthed jars only.  “Sally Fallon suggests using minimal detergent and putting it in only the first wash cup so that the regular wash becomes an extra rinse to better remove detergent residue and odors.”

“Potential difficulty with the dishwasher method is that glass can become unsanitary – either finely pitted/etched from sand or spotted from minerals in hard water – over time.”

3% Hydrogen Peroxide Solution Method for Sanitizing Milk Jars

“The HPS method is effective for extra cleanliness of your containers if your milk does not keep for at least a week, and to reduce spotting from hard water.

Hand-wash and rinse as above. HPS is most reactive at high dilution, so use in wet jars. Set wet bottles with lids and/or caps in a shallow container to catch the solution so it can be reused for several bottles. One to two ounces of HPS will treat 3-4 bottles.

Pour about one ounce of 3% HPS over the mouth and inside of a bottle, then cap or cover it with your hand and shake for one minutes to distribute the liquid. Pour HPS into the next container and set the first aside to drain. When you have used HPS on all your bottles, hold them up to the light. Any remaining organic material will show up as foamy white bubbles. Repeat the hand washing until no foam appears on contact with HPS.

When all containers have been treated, rinse well to remove any traces of chemical stabilizers from the HPS. Place containers on a clean towel to drain and dry.

The HPS method is very useful for deodorizing a bottle after milk has spoiled in it. To deodorize bottles it is best to fill them with HPS and allow them to soak overnight. Repeat as necessary.”

I really like this idea over using a bleach solution because it’s more environmentally sound and good for my family’s health, plus it’s great that you can see the milk protein with the bubbling action and know if you need a “do-over”. I’m sure HPS can be purchased in bulk if necessary.

Oven Method of Sanitizing Milk Jars

If HPS doesn’t work well enough, use this method.

“Preheat oven to 220 degrees F. Place washed, rinsed and well-drained containers in the oven for 20 minutes. Turn off oven. Allow containers to cool in a closed oven for ease of handling, to avoid a sudden change of temperature (which could cause cracking) and also to reduce air contamination until you are ready to cap the containers.”

Containers that are properly washed and prepared will “keep” clean for several weeks once capped.

Transportation tips

Always use coolers, ice packs, and something to cushion the jars inside the coolers. You could use a blanket or cardboard.

If you fill your own, it’s best to fill cold jars. Using ice packs can accomplish this.

How to Store Raw Milk at Home

  • Check temp of fridge; should be 38 degrees or below.
  • Store milk in the coldest part of the fridge if possible.
  • Use the door shelf only for the bottle in current use.
  • May need to place ice packs next to milk in fridge if having spoiling problems, especially for the milk that will be stored the longest.
  • My tip:  Whenever I’m thawing meat or frozen leftovers, I put them on and around my milk jars to help accomplish this super-cold space.
  • Promptly return bottle(s) to fridge after pouring from them.
  • Milk also decreases in quality if it is too cold. You don’t want ice crystals in your milk.

To Freeze Raw Milk (on purpose)

  1. Use plastic (to prevent shattering) and leave 1 in. headroom.
  2. Freeze as quickly as possible (the coldest part of your freezer) and shake periodically during freezing to keep cream in suspension and the cold distributed evenly.
  3. To use, thaw slowly at room temp until there is just a small chunk of ice in the milk.
  4. Shake milk often during thawing to keep it cold throughout.
  5. Fast thawing will result in curdling and/or separation of cream from milk.

Our milk co-op group has found that keeping the COLD CHAIN consistent makes a big difference in the milk’s longevity. Nobody likes sour milk, especially at $6 a gallon! I’m always pleased to be able to keep my milk at its best, so using ice/frozen food in the fridge, smaller containers, and making sure if you travel distances with milk you freeze it first are very important to me.

Thanks for joining me! Please visit Real Food Wednesday at Cheeseslave.

I am a guest lecturer and partner with GNOWFGLINS eCourses, so I will earn commission from any sales made starting here. Of course, the courses are also an awesome way to learn to cook real food, so I’d gab about them anyway.

35 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Jen says

    Our raw milk comes in the plastic gallon jugs like you see at the store (with the plastic ring seal as well). The only difference is there is no label, or sometimes that “Not for Human Consumption; For Pet Use Only” sticker. The farm it comes from sells some of their milk to Organic Valley.

    I’ve thought about tranferring it to glass jars, but never got around to it. Our milk stays fresh for about 8-10 days though, so I assume it’s ok.

    Great post and tips for handling raw milk!

    • Shari says

      Great consumer info.We are farmers hoping to get a milk cow soon with a few friends doing shares.
      Can you point me to a good source for farmers on how to keep our milk fresh and healthy from the cow to the ‘fridge’?

      • Katie says

        I bet there are resources out there, but as a non-farmer, I’m not sure where to start. I wonder if our milk farm could give you a link to something. You can find them on my local resources page under “What to Buy” in the top menu bar. Email should be on their website. Awesome that you’re getting a cow!!!
        :) Katie

  2. says

    I’ve read one looses a days freshness for every hour the milk is out of the fridge.
    Thanks for this detailed post.
    One can buy food grade Hydrogen Peroxide. One brand is called Oxy-Tech by Eagle Enterprise. It’s a 35% solution, I have a 16 fl oz bottle. To reduce to 3% mix 11 oz. distilled water with 1 oz of Oxy-Tech. It needs to be kept in fridge after opening & it a hazard if it touches skin at that 35% neat solution so would have to keep it well clear of kids & handle carefully.

  3. Therese Marheine says

    I bought a milk cow and we’ve been milking her for 8 days now. So far, so good. I take extra special care when it comes to milking. Not insane, but realistic. She’s outside a lot now so her udder is mostly clean,. still before I milk her I take warm water and a wash rag and give her a good scrub, but gentle. Then I squirt the first 4-5 squirts of milk on the ground before I put any in the bucket. She stands nice and most times there’s nothing in the milk bucket except for milk when I take it into the house. After milking I rinse her off again and then into the house pronto. I pour the milk through a filter disc into another container and then into the freezer for an hour to get it cooled down fast! Just an hour though. Sometimes I stir it mid way. Then I take it from the freezer and put it into the glass jars or other containers I have from friends and into the frig pronto. Everything seems great so far. I made butter this morning and soon will be making cottage cheese ! A website that has been really helpful for me is:


    good luck everyone!!

    • Katie says

      Wow, a milk cow! I can’t even imagine. Sounds like you’re doing a great job. I know our farm does put a “sanitizing solution” on each teat before milking, but I don’t know exactly what it is. (Maybe bleach based, but I can’t control everything!)

      So awesome to make your own dairy products like that! Are you doing mozzarella cheese, too?
      :) Katie

      • Therese Marheine says

        Yes! I’m making mozzarella, cottage cheese, feta and simple hard cheeses. Time consuming but sooo good!! Most times I don’t have enough cream to make butter, but that is really good too!

  4. says

    I’m apart of a milk share, but it’s where you have to milk it yourself. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve been learning a lot along the way. I really appreciate the information you provided. There were quite a few tid-bits I didn’t know. Thanks!

    • Katie says

      Wow, milk the cow yourself! I can’t imagine…I don’t think I’d have time for that! Kind of cool, though… 😉 Kaatie

  5. Natalie says

    My question is regarding the two conflicting pieces of information from your blogpost that I will cut-n-paste below. They are about the oven method of sanitization. One says 150 degrees the other says 220 degrees. Can you help clarify?

    “Place drained jars in a warm but turned-off oven (after baking something would work, just make sure the temp is not over 150 degrees F). Obviously don’t include the plastic lids.

    Preheat oven to 220 degrees F. Place washed, rinsed and well-drained containers in the oven for 20 minutes. Turn off oven. Allow containers to cool in a closed oven for ease of handling, to avoid a sudden change of temperature (which could cause cracking) and also to reduce air contamination until you are ready to cap the containers

    • Katie says

      So sorry it took me 2 weeks to get back to you on this – we moved and I’ve been offline a lot. I can’t imagine what I meant with the 150F comment. ??? I wrote this post so long ago…I wonder if it’s supposed to be 250 or 350, or say “not UNDER 150?” Anyway. Go with the 220 version since that at least makes sense! Sorry ’bout that! :) Katie

      • Natalie says

        Thank you :-)
        I went ahead and did it in the oven after having just baked something @ 350

        I’m sure it worked without me having to overthink it ! Thanks for responding Have some good holidays!

          • Vanessa says

            Victor, I was concerned to read that you use PVC bags. While they might be pathogen free, PVC products can leach lead and phthalates into the food and then be ingested. There is a lot of information online if you want to learn more.

  6. Mary says

    Sarah, I had the same chuckle – I pay $12/gallon (plus $2.50 deposit on each half-gallon bottle), but it’s not a cowshare, it’s from a 40-head farm upstate that supplies stores in just about the entire state – granted, NH is not very big, but still! Thankfully, raw milk is legal here (although the health dept. makes it *abundantly* clear that they strongly disapprove, and so they make it a bit of a PITB for dairy farmers) but it sure is expensive – $12/gal is the going rate for cow squeezin’s whether it’s from a store or straight from the farm. Goat milk is usually cheaper – I know of one itty-bitty farm where they sell raw goat milk for $5/gallon, BYOB – bummer I don’t like goat milk! LOL

    Thank you for this post, Katie, this was really helpful. I live alone and can’t often use up a half-gallon before it gets funky (and while I know there are a zillion things to do with souring milk, and I do them, it still annoys me), and none of the local dairies do quarts, so I’ve been getting a little bit longer shelf life by “decanting” the half-gallon into smaller bottles. Since I don’t have a really big pot, or anywhere to put a big pot, boiling bottles like for canning was a real pain, and I can taste bleach even if the jar was well-rinsed, I was about to buy a sanitizer product from the homebrew supply store!

    To folks in general – I get hydrogen peroxide in 32-oz bottles from the drugstore for under a dollar, although once in a blue moon it’ll go on sale for 2/$1 (when I buy a case!), and at the dollar store. I use it instead of chlorine bleach, when white vinegar isn’t appropriate. Ironically, the lowest price I’ve seen for gallon jugs of hydrogen peroxide is $6!

  7. Michelle says

    Hi, I live in a tropical country that doesn’t “do” raw milk, and the very-local farmer I buy my milk from thinks it is insane to drink it raw. I just bought 4 liters of raw milk from him, and he says sometimes the milk stays out of the fridge for up to 5 hours after milking. I probably can convince him to refrigerate faster in the future, but I really don’t want to cook this batch of milk, so please tell me, can I at least make raw yogurt with this? Thanks!

    • says

      I imagine I’m wayyyyy too late catching up on comments to help you on this batch (sorry!) but if the milk is fresh from the cow, I’m almost positive you’re golden. Problems come if it’s been cooled, then warmed again, then cooled. Since your farmer isn’t set up for raw milk, do make sure he’s getting some testing for the safety of his milk (100% grassfed?). You don’t want to risk your health on milk from unhealthy animals….


    • says

      It’s the difference between good bugs and bad bugs (bacteria). When there are proper good bacteria (probiotics) living in something, they kick out the bad bacteria, the stuff that would make us sick. It’s why cabbage, properly prepared as sauerkraut, can sit on the counter for 7 weeks and then in the fridge for months without any problem. :) Katie

  8. Erin says

    Thank you very much for this article about how to insure raw milk stays fresh for 7-10 days. We are in the process of figuring out why our milk from the raw milk dairy is unreliable. One time it was good and lasted til the gallon was finished, but most times it sours quickly, and worse, the last time we picked it up, it already tasted “off” (the first signs of souring) when we opened it! Our dairy bottles in plastic jugs, but we now have jars ready and waiting here at the house for rebottling. When we pick up the milk it always goes straight into the cooler packed with ice in the back of the car. Our fridge seems sufficiently cold in one area so we keep the milk there. However, this all doesn’t explain why the milk was already going sour before we even opened it up this last time around. So, we have to assume something is wrong at the dairy.
    My hope is you can provide some help as to how we can troubleshoot with our farmer. What is the best way to go about asking (pleading!) they change something in how they keep the milk, because it clearly looks like there’s a problem there. Also, could you please give more information as to how hard water can impact milk? How does hard water effect the storage of milk?
    Thank you so much! I appreciate your help.

    • says

      Hi Erin,
      On the hard water, I don’t know, but if it were me, I’d ask the farmer: “What are the temps the milk is stored at along the way to bottling? How quickly is it cooled?” You could tell them about your varied experiences with length of time, then assure them you’re doing your best to keep the cold chain going and that you really want to continue raw milk and make sure it’s viable for your family. Hope that helps! (And you can still totally cook and bake with soured milk – make a huge batch of pancakes, oatmeal, or something so you don’t have to throw it out….) :) Katie

  9. Maria Luisa says


    I would like to drink warm raw milk instead of cold raw milk from the fridge. However, I do not want to destroy the heat-sensitive nutrients of raw milk by heating.

    Do you know what is the highest advisable temperature to heat raw milk without destroying its nutrients?

    • says

      pardon my delay – your comment got a bit lost in the holiday festivities. :)

      I do know your answer! Enzymes are killed at 116F wet heat (heating on the stove). Some say “truly raw” is under 90F, so to be perfectly safe, don’t go over 90, which would be pleasantly warm I would hope. Over 116 would burn your tongue anyway. :) Katie

  10. Rachel says

    I was wondering is there a reason you can’t hand dry the glass jars with a paper towel? Thank you for all your helpful tips!

  11. devi says

    Hi! We just bought our first raw milk from 14 carrot whole food grocery in South carolina. It has a peculiar smell not the smell of going bad milk but i think its of the animal, its udder i don’t know . So if i boil it and then store will the smell go. I googled some said its safe to drink raw milk directly while some say its better to boil and store.We bought it on 21st and the expiry is of 26th but they had it on sale all the gallons for 5.99 instead of 8.99. So we bought two of them.

    • says

      Sometimes raw m ilk has a smell which comes from what the animals have eaten (not the udders, I hope, eww). It can smell a little grassy. If you boil it, it’s not raw anymore, so your decision depends on why you bought it and spent the extra $ and how nervous you feel. Boiling would be safe to drink for sure – if it was being sold, I’m hopeful that it’s safe anyway! Hope you enjoy your first raw milk experience in the long run! :) Katie

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