The Surprising Reason Why Organic Milk Outlasts Regular Milk
Craig Baumrucker, a professor specializing in animal nutrition and physiology at Pennsylvania State University, answers a question about why organic milk stays fresh longer than regular milk. While regular milk expires within a week or so, organic milk can last up to a month. Despite what many may think, the reason organic milk stays fresh longer has nothing to do with the fact that it’s organic. The term "organic" simply means that no antibiotics or hormones are used in production.
The real reason organic milk lasts longer is due to a different preservation process called ultrahigh temperature (UHT) treatment. According to the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, organic milk needs to stay fresh for longer because it often has to travel farther to reach store shelves. During the UHT process, milk is heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit (138 degrees Celsius) for two to four seconds, effectively killing all bacteria in the liquid. In contrast, standard preservation process pasteurization has two kinds: "low temperature, long time" and "high temperature, short time." Neither of these pasteurization methods can kill all bacteria, but they do enough to prevent health hazards. Regular milk has a shelf life of four to six days, but processing and shipping can extend this to two weeks. Milk that undergoes UHT can last up to six months without refrigeration. However, UHT treatment can alter the flavor of the milk, making it sweeter by burning some of its sugars. This caramelize taste is not always preferred by Americans, and the treatment can also destroy some of the milk's vitamins and proteins, making it unsuitable for cheesemaking.
Organic milk producers use UHT to keep their milk fresh, but so do some regular milk producers. Ultra-pasteurized Parmalat milk is room temperature sustenance that does not require refrigeration and is treated with UHT. UHT is also the common preservation method for most milk sold in Europe. In the United States, UHT treatment is preferred among those looking for long shelf life, but it has not yet reached the mainstream market. Organic milk’s long shelf life is due to UHT treatment, not its organic certification. Shoppers can buy UHT-treated nonorganic milk instead of being charged twice the price for organic milk if they are looking for longer shelf life.
The previous version of this statement inaccurately stated that "milk is heated to 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) for at least 30 seconds." Our editorial team at ScientificAmerican.com regrets this mistake and takes full responsibility for the error. For any questions about permissions regarding our content, please click on the following link: "Rights & Permissions".
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