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!
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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:
- Are others having the same problem?
- Is the milk being chilled quickly and immediately and traveling to your home without a break in the cold chain?
- Very hard water can make an impact.
- 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.
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)
- Use plastic (to prevent shattering) and leave 1 in. headroom.
- 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.
- To use, thaw slowly at room temp until there is just a small chunk of ice in the milk.
- Shake milk often during thawing to keep it cold throughout.
- 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.
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.