Choosing an everyday grocery essential like milk is not always the easiest thing to do. South Africans are really spoilt for choice, whether we prefer full-cream, skim or even long-life milk.
Milk, of course, is an excellent source of calcium for maintaining healthy bones, but have you ever wondered where your milk comes from or what happens after it’s expressed from the cow’s udders?
There is a considerable difference between raw and pasteurised milk, says Christine Leighton, Milk SA’s Consumer Education Project Coordinator. She explains that when you are faced with the “raw milk” option, you need to understand that it is exactly as it comes from the cow. It has not been heat treated and may carry bacteria that can have serious health risks.
Raw milk is not safe to drink and should be heated before use. Leighton advises consumers to use a clean pot to heat the milk sufficiently, but to not bring it to boiling point. It should only be heated until small bubbles appear on the side of the pot.
Pasteurised milk, however, has been heated to a temperature of 72 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 15 seconds, and then cooled rapidly to 4 degrees. According to Leighton, pasteurisation is one of several heat treatments used to limit harmful bacteria that may be present in food. These bacteria may include causative organisms leading to diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis.
Pasteurisation ensures that milk is safe for human consumption and extends its shelf life. Pasteurised milk also always requires refrigeration.
So why does it matter and which option is better for your health? Pasteurised milk is better for your health. You have the added benefit that the product is safe for human consumption. Although raw milk contains all the nutrients found in pasteurised milk, it may not be safe for human consumption as it may carry harmful bacteria that can have serious health risks.
What should you be aware of when checking milk labels in stores? When buying milk, it is important to look at the sell-by date that is printed on the container, as this is an indication of the shelf-life of the milk. Leighton explains that the shelf life date will indicate until when the milk will be good for consumption in its unopened state, provided the cold chain was maintained.
A product’s shelf life refers to how long a product can be stored without spoiling. The shelf life of milk depends on the type of milk:
- Fresh pasteurised milk can keep for up to 4 days at temperatures below 5 °C.
- Unopened UHT milk can be stored unrefrigerated for up to 6 months, and sometimes even to nine months.
Milk’s nutritional information? According to Leighton, processors are not obligated to provide nutritional information on the label. However, the nutritional table that is often printed on the container provides valuable information. The nutritional table indicates the macro nutrients and, in some cases, also lists vitamins and minerals. The nutritional table will indicate the protein, fat and carbohydrate content of milk.
Where can you buy raw milk and is it legal? It is illegal to sell raw milk in South Africa unless it has been approved by health authorities. Raw milk is not commonly sold in retail stores and the price is unknown. If it is sold in the informal market, it is still recommended to be heat treated before consumption.
What is UHT milk? UHT milk is often called long-life milk. UHT, short for ultra-high temperature treatment, is a process used to produce milk with a long shelf life. It involves heating milk to a very high temperature (above 100°C) for a few seconds then cooled to 4 °C or lower and aseptically packed in sterile containers. Unopened UHT milk can be stored unrefrigerated for a long time, as indicated on the package. Once opened, it must be treated like fresh milk and be kept refrigerated and used within 3–4 days.
What is the difference between milk powder and coffee creamer? Milk powder is a dry, powdered form of pasteurised milk. The milk is first concentrated in an evaporator, where it reduces to about 50% milk solids. The resulting concentrated milk is then sprayed into a heated chamber where the water almost instantly evaporates, leaving fine particles of powdered milk solids.
Coffee creamer is not dairy milk powder. Coffee creamers are made from vegetable fats and will not provide you with the nutrients found in dairy. Coffee creamers have no calcium, protein or any of the other important nutrients found in milk. Coffee creamer cannot replace to milk or formula milk for babies or children.