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How to transport and store farm-fresh raw milk

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by Lynn Cameron. January 30, 2008

Some of you may be purchasing your raw milk directly from the farm. Here are some tips about how to transport and store your farm-fresh raw milk.

Chill raw milk within an hour of milking

Raw milk is approximately 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit (F) as it comes from the cow, and needs to be chilled to 40°F as fast as possible, preferably within an hour of milking since bacteria count doubles every 20 minutes at body temperature. Chilling the milk fast ensures a longer shelf life — and it just tastes better (will have less "off flavors") if it is chilled quickly and stays cool. (If milk does not stay cool, it will sour and separate.)

The bulk milk tank at the organic farm is the beginning of the “cold chain”. Rapid cooling inhibits the good lactic-acid bacteria which causes milk to sour (turning it into clabber ) and will inhibit the growth of bad bacteria faster. For optimal preservation of milk quality, it should be stirred as it is rapidly chilling, and it should be kept cool during transportation and storage until use.

How to store raw milk

It’s very important that farm-fresh raw milk be kept below 40 degrees F at all times in the delivery system — from tested clean source to home kitchen. Containers that maintain proper temperature are needed all the way to the delivery point. Your milk will stay fresher longer if you never break the cold chain.

Container size and type are important. I have two amber gallon jugs that are optimum for maintaining nutrients and flavor but are heavy to transport. Most choose returnable food-grade plastic gallon jugs, which run about $3.50-$5 each, and label them uniquely on the cap. Bottles or jars larger than a gallon in winter and a 1/2 gallon in summer are not recommended because the large size makes it harder to keep the milk evenly cooled.

Transporting fresh raw milk

For transporting fresh raw milk, a cooler or ice chest is needed in order to keep the milk at a cool 40 degrees F or lower at all times. (It is helpful to have the family name on the inside and outside of the cooler.) When handling milk, hand washing is the most effective way to prevent contamination for all parties; just before filling the milk jugs is important. I recommend Thieves foaming handsoap with essential oils for this and all toxin-free skin disinfecting needs. A rinse with a weak H2O2 solution followed by clear water is good for containers.

How to Freeze Whole Organic Raw Milk

I like to keep a supply of organic whole raw milk in my freezer. I label wide-mouth glass containers like my grandma used for freezing with the words "Whole Milk" and the date. After losing too many quarts of valuable organic milk to burst jars, I now leave plenty of headroom, cap tightly, and lay them on their sides to freeze as quickly as possible, and store them upright after they are frozen. I was surprised to see good quality raw whole milk is yellow when frozen. I think this is because we now see the butter suspended clearly in frozen liquid.

Thawing frozen raw milk. To use frozen low-fat or whole milk, thaw slowly at room temperature. I use a pan of warm water on my wood stove. Don’t be concerned

if fast thawing results in slight separation of the butterfat from the milk. These are just luscious lumps of Vitamin A & D-rich cream that can be whisked back in — real delicious superfood. I mainly use defrosted organic raw milk to make smoothies, to make kefir (an ancient cultured milk beverage) and for cooking, but it is perfectly tasty by the glass, too.

If you won’t be freezing the milk, check the temperature of the home refrigerator to find the coldest area for storing the milk. Use the door shelf only for the bottle in current use. During hot weather, place ice in plastic quart-sized bags or re-freezable gel packs in front of or next to the containers that will be stored the longest. It is important to keep the milk COLD, as I’ve said before, at between 35 and 37 degrees F and protected from UV (ultraviolet) light to preserve the Vitamin D in the milk.

About the Vitamin D: consider the clear plastic gallons of Grade A pasteurized Vitamin D enriched milk (pasteurization kills Vitamin D) setting in Quick Stop coolers all over America being bathed in continuous light that blasts the Vitamin D that’s just been added.

Did you know that farm fresh milk dries almost clear, so it is not always apparent where it has not been removed?

Make sure your milk containers are clean. All organic dairymen I know are sticklers about squeaky clean containers; customers get charged for incompletely cleaned containers (when they’ve been capped for awhile, they give a definite odor when opened). Food-grade H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) is uniquely perfect as a cleaner and disinfectant for dairy equipment because its by-product is just plain water.

There’s a lot that I’ve learned since I began regular visits to the organic dairy. Two-quart, wide-mouth canning jars are optimal for ease of cleaning. Use only tempered glass. A good habit to get into is to rinse emptied containers immediately. Use lukewarm water so as not to “set” the milk protein . Then wash in hot, soapy water. Rinse three times with water first to cut suds and then with warm-hot water to speed drying. Drain on a clean dish towel or rack, let air-dry on the counter and then cap. You can also wash in a dishwasher with a non-toxic product.

How long does organic raw milk last?

With care, organic milk that has not been warm since it left the contented pastured cow can be stored 7 to 14 days for drinking as sweet milk, with meals to help digestion or as a healthy satisfying snack. After a couple weeks culturing in cold storage, healthy raw milk develops the subtle tang that advertises that the good lacto-bacillus bacteria are stirring; then it’s a wonderful flavor for cream soups, white sauces, and custards.

On the slim chance there will be any left before fresh milk arrives, this treasure can become the healthy liquid that gives sourdough pancakes, biscuits, and bread their taste appeal. I never waste sour milk down the drain — I feed it to my pets — I pour it on my compost — I dump it on the earth.

At least, I would , if I had any leftover to go sour.

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Contributing Author Lynn Cameron owns the website and has conducted her own research into the complementary health field since the early seventies.

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