Fear and Loathing — Milk Edition

Every week, without fail, I open the fridge and find two milk cartons open.

"Honey, what's up?" I enquire, knowing the answer.

"I think that one is bad," she replies, pointing to a carton with a sell-by date fully weeks ahead. I go through the motions of opening the carton and smelling the potentially offensive stuff, but I know the result. It's not bad. It never is.

Why do we go through this weekly ritual? "How is it possible that they can sell milk a month or two before the expiration?" counters my dairy-paranoid wife. "It isn't possible. I don't trust it."

Well, darling, here's the answer. Most states require sell-by dates to be 12 days to three weeks after pasteurization in the plant. Ultra-pasteurized milk — like the Stonyfield Organic Low Fat I bought last night at Publix — is either exempt from these rules or have greatly extended time periods for the sell by. Thus, that Stonyfield carton is stamped with July 18, about 7 weeks from now.

Why is some milk pasteurized and some ultra-pasteurized? If the milk is coming from a regional plant associated with regional dairies, then pasteurization is the way most producers do it. It tastes better and is easier for the plant.

Milk that needs to travel is almost invariably ultra-pasteurized. That means that just about every national brand of organic milk I can find is UP, because national organic brands invariably rely on the same type of centralized factory farming that non-organic does. But they sell less, so there are fewer or no regions where sales justify a local dairy operation.

Which brings up the classic argument: is fresh and local better than organic and shipped? Would you rather have hormones and better tasting milk, or no hormones and milk that uses a heck of a lot of fossil fuels to get to you, maybe months after leaving the cow. Pus, or less pus.

Maybe my wife is right. We usually buy organic milk, so the dates stamped on the cartons are often futuristic in quality. The milk hasn't turned bad by the time my wife has given up on it, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't bad to begin with.

(Thanks to Milk Is Milk for a lot of vital info.)

Scroll to read more Food News articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.