I opened the refrigerator and pulled the gallon of milk out eagerly anticipating the first sip of goodness. After breaking open the sealed cap of the new container, I watched the smooth flow of the brilliant white fluid fill my glass to the top. Lifting it to my lips, I swallowed a couple of large mouthfuls and immediately spit it out. I had expected to taste the rich and creamy flavor of whole milk, but instead, the inside of my mouth was coated with the taste of a farm.
I have been on thousands of farms, and inside each milk house of everyone I have visited has the distinct aroma of stagnant milk. This is a subset of bacteria called Psychrotrophic Spore-formers. These bacteria grow in temperatures between 0 to 7 degrees Celsius and is a factor of what cause milk to spoil in the refrigerator. Further, these bacteria are activated by pasteurization, which releases the spore inside the bacteria. Some species, like Bacillus, are even resistant to the pasteurization process.
Could this be avoided?
Yes. We could increase the temperature and shorten the time of the pasteurization process. In Europe, milk is pasteurized at 135 degrees Celsius for 2-5 seconds. This method not only kills the bacteria, but the spores as well. But this solution is not economically feasible in the United States as the entire dairy industry would need to change its process. Also, the very particular U.S. market would have to adapt to the change in taste that is associated with Ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) milk.
Increase sanitation standards and testing
The more economical option would be to increase sanitation standards and testing for this specific group of bacteria on the farm. Testing every tanker truck’s load of milk for Lab. Pasteurized counts (LPC), and Preliminary incubation (PI) and reducing the acceptable levels would also accomplish this goal. Understandably, this could increase the stress on an already burdened farmer, but this proactive measure would be an investment in the industry and have far-reaching effects.
Saddened by my findings, I knew what I needed to do. I poured the entire gallon of milk down the drain. What was even worse, is I knew this was not a unique case.
The sale of fluid milk is decreasing rapidly, compensation is at a 4-year low and farmers are struggling. The only way to stop the trend is to find ways to protect the product and brand. Increased testing for non-pathogenic bacteria which create customer dissatisfaction needs to become a major priority. If we work together, the dairy industry can re-establish itself as a premier product.