Dairy, dairy quite contrary

How does your bacteria grow?

With metal grates and heated plates,

And filthy cows all in a row.


Ever wonder how your milk gets from the cow to your bowl of cereal? Grist.org just did a great story on dairy. Essentially, milk goes through a 3-step process of pasteurization, homogenization and fortification. Here is a list of must-know terms from today’s milk production.


Pasteurization is the process of using heat to destroy microorganisms in foods. Do you know the difference between pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, and raw?  Here are the 4 main ways dairy is pasteurized:

High Temperature Short Time (HTST)
This is the most common method of pasteurization in the U.S. HTST uses metal plates and hot water to raise milk temperatures to at least 161F/72C degrees for a minimum of 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling.

Ultra Pasteurized (UP)
Milk or milk product is heated to 280F/138 C degrees for two seconds. UP results in a product with longer shelf life, but still requires refrigeration. Most organic milk is ultra pasteurized to extend the shelf life.

Ultra High Temperature (UHT)
This type of pasteurization is “aseptic processing” which means the milk/milk product is heated using commercially sterile equipment and is filled into hermetically sealed packaging. This product is shelf stable and does not require refrigeration until opened. Temperature and time requirements are based on the specific equipment used. This explains why the smoked cheddar cheese in the Swiss Colony holiday gift basket can arrive via UPS Ground.

Vat Pasteurization
Milk or milk product is heated to 145F/63C degrees for 30 minutes. This method is primarily used for preparing milk for making starter cultures in the processing of cheese, yogurt, buttermilk and some ice cream mixes.

Dairy from “CAFO Cows” (cows from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) must be pasteurized because of the filthy and unnatural living conditions (pen size, concentration of cows, excrement, grain/corn feed, no grazing, etc.) of these poor animals. You don’t want to drink this stuff raw.


When milk was delivered in glass bottles to doorsteps it was whole milk with cream on top. This happens when fat rises to the top forming a cream layer. These days, the vast majority of milk undergoes a process called homogenization which prevents this natural separation from occurring.

“Homogenization is a mechanical treatment of the fat globules in milk brought about by passing milk under high pressure through a tiny orifice, which results in a decrease in the average diameter and an increase in number and surface area, of the fat globules. The net result, from a practical view, is a much reduced tendency for creaming of fat globules.”

University of Guelph, Dairy Science & Technology

There is speculation that this mechanical treatment alters the fat cells in milk in such a way that makes them harmful to our bodies.


According to the Dairy Council of California, milk produced in California is fortified with nonfat milk solids, “…which improves taste and adds additional nutritional benefits.” In addition, the site states that:

“…milk is fortified to increase its nutritional value or to replace nutrients lost during processing. Vitamin D is added to most milk produced in the United States to facilitate the absorption of calcium…Vitamin A is frequently added to reduced-fat, low-fat and fat-free milks.”

So basically, milk is stripped of all it’s natural properties and then is pumped up with bits and parts and synthetics to make it appear healthy. Yum.

Other Dairy Must-Knows

Have you noticed that some dairy products are labeled, “no rbST?” Ever wondered what that means? Here is a quick introduction:

rbST or rbGH is a synthetic hormone injected into cows to increase milk production and the length of time a cow is able to produce milk. Bovine Somatotropin (bST) or Bovine Growth Hormone (bGH) is a naturally occurring protein hormones found in dairy cattle. It is produced by the pituitary glands of cows and assists in the development and production of milk. The term Recombinant (the “r” in rbST or rbGH) is an artificially produced hormone which duplicates the natural hormone using DNA sequencing technology.

Be Food Smart Report on rbST

Approved by the FDA in 1993. Monsanto is the sole producer and the hormone is sold under the name Posilac. According to the FDA, labeling dairy products from cows not treated with rbST, must follow this guideline: “dairy products from cows not treated with rbST – No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.”  RbST has been shown to increase levels of IGF-1 (a growth hormone). Studies link IGF-1 with a wide variety of cancers including prostate, breast, lung, and ovarian cancers.  These hormonal growth promoters are banned in the EU and Canada.

You can’t bring up rbST without also discussing antibiotics. Cows treated with growth hormones show higher incidences of mastitis (inflamed tissue of the udders causing infection). Antibiotics are used to fight mastitis in huge quantities. There is growing concern surrounding the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the milk causing antibiotic resistance in cattle and potentially humans.

Raw Dairy

I would remiss to to write an article about dairy and not mention an alternative to pasteurized, homogenized, hormone and antibiotic laden dairy. It is called raw milk. I know, it sounds super scary, especially after reading The Dangers of Raw Milk article on the FDA.gov website. Before you dismiss raw dairy, research it. Learn the difference between milk sold to be consumed raw and the CAFO milk that is raw prior to pasteurization. Here is a great place to start: Raw Milk Gets a Raw Deal. There is a great documentary out right now called Farmageddon which looks at the government’s bias against raw milk production and consumption in America. It is quite eye opening. If you believe that milk does a body good, know what your options are so you make the best decision for you and your family.

International Dairy Food Association
National Dairy Council

Image: Suto Norbert