Plastic and Raw Milk? Never!

I don’t know what it is about the idea of plastic adulterating raw milk.  “The horror!  You know what?  Just the thought of it infuriates me to the point of… well… not buying raw milk, on principle!  Ok, I’m going to just go back to factory milk,  or just stop drinking milk all together!  Oh wait.  That means being a part of “the system” again, condoning and supporting confinement dairies, unnatural & GMO cattle feed, pasteurization to kill pathogens like e coli 0157:h7 which are created in CAFO grain-fed cows, and the untold suffering of these dairy cattle and their calves, organic or not.  Give up cream, ice-cream, kefir, butter, cheese… all the delicious things I make with raw milk?  Maybe I better calm down and think this through.”

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Whew, that’s better.

Be honest. Do you feel this way, or have you come to this plastic crossroads in your raw milk experience?  I have and I understand the passion. Glass Mason jars are cool. They make you feel superior in a true foodie sort of way. Friends look in your refrigerator and pantry and see that you make your own stuff, and you secretly beam. Well,  it is something to be proud of and to strive for:  making and giving your family the finest real-food and health.  Raw milk and what it produces is the Queen of Real Food, in my opinion. It is the watershed revolution that leads people down the path to understanding and savoring what is real, and what brings life and restores health.  Once you have researched, tasted and experienced the raw milk life, there is no turning back.

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But wait a minute.  I hate plastic!  I hate what it does to the environment, I hate the hormone disruptors and all of the poisons, I hate the trash, and what about the cool factor of my raw milk in Mason jars?  I also have to be honest that  transitioning away from all plastics is not an easy one.  Do you purchase anything in plastic?  What about coconut oil, organic apple juice, salad dressings, ziplock bags…?  I bet if you look in your cabinet and refrigerator right now, there will be something in a plastic container.

“Yes, but NOT raw milk!”

Let’s step back and examine the raw milk container options. First and foremost, the harsh reality is that the number one labor expense and headache raw milk dairy farmers have, is washing and sterilizing glass jars.  Mind you the labor expense is not just pure cash flow, it is valuable time, and lots of it, to perform this task, to the detriment of the dairy.  There are only so many hours in the day.  Many shareholders do not realize this fact and bring their jars back unwashed, crusted with spoiled milk, without a lid, or worse, do not bring back the jars at all. This creates an added huge expense of having to purchase more jars throughout the season, and let’s face it, there is little cash flow in a raw dairy to begin with. Do you know that a good Jersey cow is between $1500 and $2500, not to mention the cost of pasture, feeding hay and alfalfa, equipment, employees…

Even with shareholders bringing back clean jars, a raw dairy must rewash them and sanitize them.  Rental of a commercial kitchen is required with a commercial dishwasher which uses bleach and other harsh chemicals to clean and sanitize, after each jar has been individually scrubbed inside and out. These chemicals do not rinse completely off.  This is a wonderful article from Kitchen Stewardship on the safe handling of raw milk and how to properly clean and sanitize glass jars at home.

This brings us to the point that plastic milk jugs are sterile to begin with, and therefore the risks of improperly washed or sanitized glass jars, or the contamination with chemicals from state mandated sterilization methods are eliminated.  Many raw dairies are switching to plastic milk jugs, out of financial and time management necessity and also as insurance against contamination.

But what about the chemicals and hormone disruptors leaching into the pure milk?  Organic Pastures in California is the largest raw dairy in the US and explains in great detail why milk grade plastic jugs are a perfectly safe and viable choice.  Here is an excerpt from the article: “Know your Plastics. Your raw milk is safe in plastic containers. Organic Pastures Dairy has performed extensive research on the subject of plastics and plastic containers for raw milk. According to the Natural Home Garden Magazine (May/June 2003) and Consumer Reports, # 2 plastic HDPE does not leach, unless it is heated, burned, or microwaved. Other plastics, including #3, #6, and #7, do have a reputation for leaching elements into food, especially when heated…” read the rest of the article.

Our dear friends who own and operate the local raw, grass-fed dairy, Parker Pastures, have made the switch to sterile #2 milk jugs this season.  So very many raw dairies in cities around us and around the nation have had to painfully close their doors and it was a great scare that our beloved local dairy would have to shut down as well, mainly due to the high cost of labor in the washing and purchasing of glass jars.  We are grateful that they are still able to provide our valley with this perfect food.  Years ago I experienced this shock of having my raw milk only available in plastic when I had to go back to Texas where the raw dairy used one gallon plastic jugs, and charged $16 a gallon which I gratefully paid for four gallons a week.  Raw milk was a priority.  I had been so spoiled in Colorado by Parker Pastures using glass jars and had to work through the disconnect about plastic and raw milk.  For some reason it took me a while to realize that all I had to do when I got home was to pour the raw milk into my clean jars at home.  Eureka!  I always do a sniff test before pouring raw milk into a clean glass jar, because if the jar has been used for Master Tonic, beet kvaas, salsa or something spicy the odor takes a few washings to be removed.  Another good reason for a raw dairy to use sterile plastic jugs.

Plastic jugs are not the only cost saver that most raw dairies employ.  The absolute luxury of being able to have shares of raw cream, raw butter, yogurt… are out of this world, but to realize the monumental labor that this requires to offer these added products to shareholders s staggering to a small family trying to make ends meet in the cattle business.  Two years ago I volunteered my time each week to help make butter for our local raw dairy.  Do you realize that it takes three gallons of raw milk to make just over two 8oz. balls of raw butter?  The huge expense and time involved to own and run a cream separator is truly a factor in the decision to stay in business or to sell off dairy cows. It is easy for a shareholder at their own home to ladle off cream which has risen to the top of a jar of raw milk and I love this idea from Food Renegade on separating raw cream.

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So how can we all insure that our communities continue to have thriving raw dairies?  Thank them, support them, volunteer your time to help out when needed, spread the news to your friends and family about becoming shareholders, purchase their other products like grass-fed meat…, and understand and follow their rules so they can keep doing what they do best, taking care of cows.

The very best books on the subject of raw milk are The Raw Milk Revolution by David Gumpert and The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid.

p.s.  I always get lots of questions on what to do with the raw skim milk when the cream has been ladled off it.  Actually, there is still a lot of cream in the skim milk with this method, certainly more than store bought “whole” homogenized milk, and so it is perfectly delicious to drink or use in recipes.  I prefer to make kefir with this skimmed raw milk, and this is where I get lots of living probiotic whey from.  I also use it to make all kinds of cheese, especially easy farmers cheese, and ricotta.   When milk production is low, I always skim the cream off to be able to have a constant supply of cream for coffee.  On our farm we give lots of extra skim milk and cheese whey to our pigs, chickens and dogs.

37 thoughts on “Plastic and Raw Milk? Never!

    • Dear Becky, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing that you are on a raw milk journey. Nothing better in my book! Yes, I have written a lot about kefir and here is my basic post on it http://grassfood.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/kefir-the-worst-part-is-the-pronunciation/ . I do make kefir everyday and it is a wonderful way to preserve the raw milk for many things, and I use kefir whey in a lot of things as well. It has been a while since I read this post, and so if there is anything in it that does not make sense or you need any further clarification on kefir or raw milk…, don’t hesitate to ask. Take care, Jamie.

  1. I don’t know why people keep saying all conventional Dairys are confined and the cows are suffering . If you where to open the gates on a free stall barn so the cows could go out on a green pasture. They would stay in the barn until it was night and cooling off. But then there are farmers like me hews cows are on pasture except at milking time . A cow is a motherly animal so the better she is treated the more milk she can produce. I can not speak for every dairy in America but the most of us are hard working caring people.

    • Dear James, Thank you so much for your thoughts and perspective. I wholeheartedly can say that every dairy, from those who are conventional huge dairies with hundreds of cows, to grass-fed dairies like yourself, to families who have one cow, are all hard-working, caring people. I do believe that the conventional method of huge factory dairies, where the cows are confined, no access to pasture, GMO and other unnatural feeds and heavy antibiotics, given hormones to produce unnatural amounts of milk, and being milked three times a day causes the cows to suffer. Hopefully more dairies like yourself who can allow the cow to experience motherhood, keep their calf on them for as long as possible and have access to grass can thrive and grow. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Our raw milk farmers just changed protocols after getting one too many chipped/dirty jar back: we cowshare owners wash and sterilize our own half-gallon jars, label them with our name, and return them to be filled for the next pickup. That way, we get our own jars back each time, so the responsibility for cleanliness lies with us, the owners, not the farmers who take care of our cows and milk them. There is also a plastic jug option for those who prefer; costs 45 cents more per gallon.

  3. Pingback: Rosemary Farmers Cheese | grassfood.

  4. I recently stopped purchasing raw milk from a family farm close to me because I can taste whatever it is they use to sanitize their glass milk jars. Although I would prefer to get my milk in glass, I’d rather be able to drink my milk without the bitter taste left behind from less than adequate rinsing. Thank you for this article, I feel much better about the milk I get in plastic jugs from a different farmer.

    • I think this is an important concern as well. Now you know that your milk is clean, and since you prefer glass, why don’t you just transfer your milk from the plastic into your own clean glass jars when you get home? :)

  5. It really isn’t a question in my state, Minnesota. The only legal way to obtain raw milk here is to go directly to the farmer with my own containers, they fill them for me, but are not responsible for their level of cleanliness. I am. So I use glass mason half gallon jars. Or I used to before the farmers whose milk I purchased decided to stop milking.
    I have given the legality a lot of thought, and of course down in the more populated area of our state, there has been some humdrum regarding the legality of doing group pick-ups. I wish they’d all just quiet down and stop attracting attention to the issue, and here’s why.
    My milk is (was) raw from mostly grassfed cows (Impossible to grassfeed year round when there is snow on the ground 5 months of the year). It cost me a 17 mile drive and $4 a gallon.
    IF the people down in the cities have their way, the government will get all involved, they will start poking around in places where they don’t belong, and the cost of my milk will rise. Lucky me. Maybe I can pay $16 a gallon like my sister in California. Of course, she can pick it up in a grocery store. But I am perfectly happy with my level of responsibility remaining with me. I chose our farmer for their practices, they are smallholders with only 2 dairy cows, and they got the cows so they could provide themselves with milk. I wash my own containers so I never have to wonder if someone else did a good enough job, or how much time, energy or money it cost them. And if I contaminate my own milk, I have no one to blame but myself.
    Or, I can pay $16 a gallon to have the government nosing around in my kitchen, telling me what is right to eat, and nosing around in my farmer’s barn, telling them what is right to feed their cattle. Well, gosh. Thanks for keeping me “safe”. Now that I can no longer afford that healthy food, can I please have some government cheese and margarine?

    • Wow, Jill, that is interesting. Yes, it sure would cut down on the responsibility of the farmer insuring that the glass containers were clean, if the shareholder like yourself cleaned and brought your own containers. There are so many factors in each State, and of course each farm within those states has different challenges and benefits that would not be the same for other farmers. haha, “government cheese and margarine” No thanks! :)

    • “(Impossible to grassfeed year round when there is snow on the ground 5 months of the year)”

      Ruminants who receive hay during the winter are still considered “grass fed.” The term is in opposition to “grain fed,” and it does not require fresh grass in order to realize the benefits.

      • We have snow on the ground for that long as well and our dairy cows, sheep and even pigs are grass-fed (the pigs also get scraps and milk.) We give hay and alfalfa and this year found a silage fermented alfalfa called Chaffehaye which our animals love.

  6. I buy one gallon per week. It comes fresh from the farm and is in a plastic gallon jug. I then take it and divide it out, (only 2 of us) and put it into glass jars. Some stays in the fridge and the other goes into the freezer for later in the week. Keeps it fresh and yummy!!! :)

    • Transferring it to glass jars is also important when you want to skim the cream off the top. I’m curious why you feel the need to freeze your other half gallon, if you are using it within a week? Our raw milk stays perfectly fresh up to a month. In any case, raw milk certainly is yummy. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. So it appears the argument for plastic comes down to the cost of labour and machinery for cleaning glass.

    This is because you don’t directly pay for all the costs associated with plastic — they are “externalities” that we all pay for!

    The pollution from the manufacture and disposal of plastic is an externality that the person bottling the milk doesn’t pay — but perhaps people downwind or downstream from the plastic plant or dump pay for with increased cancer and other maladies. Sorta takes the smugness out of the health aspect of raw milk, doesn’t it?

    I’m a fan of Mark McAfee, but he has a serious conflict of interest, and an article from Organic Pastures defending their use of plastic should hardly be taken as impartial evidence. He says washing would produce too much waste water — ah, the externalities again. I wonder how much water is used “somewhere else” in the manufacture and disposal of plastic containers.

    A local dairy uses old-fashioned square bottles, and we gladly pay the deposit on them in order to use them. Our customers appreciate them. We require them to be thoroughly cleaned when returned (or face a $2 “dirty bottle” charge), and we re-clean them thoroughly.

    If you drink or produce raw milk at least in part for ecological reasons, please consider rejecting plastic — if for no other reason, they ain’t making any more dinosaurs, and someday the petroleum, and the plastic, will be all gone.

    • Dear Jan,

      I want to thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and insight, and apologize for being unable to respond until now. I agree with you that while basically the argument for plastic comes down to the cost of labour and machinery for cleaning glass, the reality for many small dairy farmers is just that: the costs, equipment and labor for cleaning glass are so great, some farmers must either choose plastic or no longer be able to afford to stay in business. Raw milk in sterile plastic, or no raw milk at all. There is only so much time in the day and money in the bank.

      I also agree with your argument that there are many detrimental costs associated with the production of plastic, but also computers, cell phones, gasoline, toilet paper, pet foods, all processed foods and packaging, clothing, furniture, shoes, paper… We do live in the 21st century and are making a great mess out of this world and I do believe we can each make a difference by choosing local foods, supporting organic farmers, growing and making as much food ourselves as we can, minimizing waste where possible and recycling and much more.

      I certainly disagree with your comment that while in many of the 21st century products I listed above we either cannot or choose not to do without, that plastic somehow “takes the smugness out of the health aspect of raw milk.” Many mothers who see great health improvements in their family are not being smug by continuing to support a farmer to stay in business if he has to switch to plastic containers or discontinue providing this healthy food.

      Why in the world would you say that Mark McAfee has a serious conflict of interest and that his article to his raw milk customers is not valid evidence as to why some farmers can no longer afford the costs of glass and are choosing plastic? He has the right to say that $1,000,000 for the required equipment… is too much.

      I have my own personal cows I milk and do use glass for all the reasons you refer to, but I also want to support the many small dairies and shareholders who value raw milk for their families health and the viability of being able to stay in business. I am happy that your dairy has enough help and equipment to properly wash and sanitize your square bottles. Many farmers I know do not have that luxury and have had to face this crossroads, and also want to insure that their containers are sterile and safe for their shareholders.

      I do not know how to honestly answer the fact that we as a species do need to cut back on plastics, poisons, and all the things which are destroying the planet. I do not see how we can completely reject all plastics or all modern manufactured items… but we can try as hard as we can to do our part in creating less waste and pollution. Am I a hypocrite in saying that I buy organic carrots in a plastic bag, or support local raw milk in a plastic jug, or type on a computer that is made from God knows what? I guess I am, but I am trying.

      I really do appreciate you bringing up the dangers and horrors of plastic, as we all need to be more aware and reject when we can and also recycle. I liked your link to how to thoroughly clean a milk bottle and that you charge a $2 fee for a dirty bottle charge. I hope your dairy is able to keep up with the glass cleaning and purchasing and that you are able to continue to supply your shareholders with healthy, safe raw milk. Cheers! Jamie

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Jamie.

        To those who claim the cost of glass is too high, I have a proposal: ask your customers!

        Just ask them, “Since plastic manufacture and waste cause vast amounts of pollution, and because plastic is a non-renewable resource, would you be willing to pay $x more for your milk if it came in deposit, reusable, glass containers?”

        If people really drink raw milk for the health benefits, I bet they’d jump at the chance to use glass for a relatively small incremental cost. I know our customers really appreciate it.

        • Jan, again, I do not think it always boils down to just charging more for the milk to use glass, it is also a matter of actually having the time and extra labor to do this work. Some farms just do not have enough help, and cannot afford to hire more hands. I think most customers would definitely choose glass if they had a choice, and I know those who are shareholders in places where the farm can provide glass do appreciate it. When it comes down to the realities of farms providing safe milk in plastic, or no milk at all, customers will choose the raw milk. It is not always black and white and many people do not understand why raw milk is so much higher than government subsidized commercial milk, so to ask them to pay even more is difficult in many communities.

    • Well, Jan….producing glass is just as bad as producing plastic for our ecology from what I read about glass making. I use both in my milk selling business. Cleaning jars that customers don’t clean very well does require more water to clean them. It’s bad enough when I use my milk machine. Rinse (2 gals water), CIP cleaner (3 gals water), Rinse (2 gals), Acid Wash (3 gals) and Rinse again (2 gals). That’s 24 gals of water a day. Then milk bottles (1/2 gal and qts). I go thru a lot of water and feel that is a detriment to the ground water around here.

      • “producing glass is just as bad as producing plastic for our ecology from what I read about glass making…”

        I don’t necessarily agree, but for sake of argument, there is one huge difference, even if the ecological impact of production is the same: the glass is used over and over again, whereas the plastic is legally used but once, then discarded.

        Washing glass need not use lots of water, nor nasty chemicals. We use dishwashing soap and vinegar. Neither is bad for septic systems nor groundwater.

        One thing that people seem to not want to understand: there is no “away” to which you can throw things. This planet is the only one we have. When you “throw away” something, it’s going to impact someone else, somewhere, sooner or later — maybe your grandchildren.

        • Jan, Thank you again for this. You are so right and we really do need to do everything we can to stop this horrible throw away mentality. I completely agree. I hope you can understand the dilemma with some farmers having to choose the lesser of two evils, plastic over going out of business. Hopefully those that must have to purchase things in plastic, or other harmful packaging…, will make an extra effort to recycle and eliminate waste in other areas.

    • Another consideration with plastic is your department of agriculture may prefer plastic jugs because they are guaranteed sterile if handled properly, they have a tamper-evident seal, and the very small opening means that it is unlikely that anything will get in the milk during jugging. Glass may be cooler, but the reality is that your farmer probably may prefer plastic jugs for the ease of handling, cost, and reduced breakage.

      • Thank you Diane, I agree. It is interesting that many states have laws where a raw milk shareholder must bring their own containers to the farm and this puts the cleanliness of the container on the shareholder and not on the farmer. Sterile plastic jugs do reduce risk of contamination for farmer and shareholder and the farmer has more time to take care of his cows.

      • “Sterile plastic jugs do reduce risk of contamination…”

        Of bacteria, perhaps. And yet the risk of chemical contamination is greatly increased — the newer the plastic, the more volatile components there are to leach out.

        I’ll take my chances with bacteria that millions of years of evolution has prepared me for, rather than petrochemicals that haven’t even been around long enough to test properly.

  8. Interesting that you posted this today. I’ve finally taken the step to ordering some raw milk after about a year of umming and ahhing over the whole thing! The whole plastic bottle thing concerned me too but I feel better after reading this, plus I know that you can freeze raw milk as well which you can’t do if it’s stored in a glass bottle.

    Excited to try raw milk for the first time!

    • I’m so happy that you are going to get some raw milk. Why such hesitation, if I may ask? I hope you love it as much as we do and that it opens up a whole new world of health and the finest in cream, butter, cheese, kefir, yogurt, whey… yum!

      • Well I first started hearing/reading about raw milk when I got onto reading The Healthy Home Economist. At the time I was still living back home in Australia but back then no one (at lease of who I knew) were really into the raw milk thing so I just let it pass (now they sell it as ‘bath milk’ there). Anyway fast forward to about 2 years ago when I moved to the U.S. and was still reading The Healthy Home Economist and then getting into a paleo based diet and the raw milk thing kept popping up again and again… we were living in Michigan and I couldn’t really access any raw milk or at least I’d have to drive a long way out to a farm to get some. Anyway am not living in England and there are plentiful farms here (not sure if they all sell raw milk) but found a good source online so I thought I’d try them out and then hopefully find a farm I can buy from directly.

        I’m very excited to try it and I will be sure to come back and let you know all about my first experience!

        • Thanks for writing back Naz. I was curious if it was an issue of being nervous about raw milk or something like that. I could not tell from your reply if you said you were living in England right now. There is a wonderful girl, Ariana, who lives in England and blogs about it and also raw milk, so perhaps she can hook you up. http://and-here-we-are.blogspot.com/2013/02/wyken-market-where-to-find-raw-milk-and.html

          If I read that wrong and you are in the states, you can go to http://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/ and search for a raw milk farm, or even try on Craigslist. You will be in heaven once you do find some. Did you see my article about my raw milk experience? http://grassfood.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/why-i-left-civilization-to-milk-my-own-cow/ You can tell I’m a real raw milk freak. :) I have been doing Primal for the last three months and am so excited about it as well. I couldn’t do Paleo because I love raw cream… so much. :) Please keep in touch and tell me how your search and delight is coming along. Cheers, Jamie.

        • No worries! And yes I’m in England now, been here just over a month and was in America before. I will check out the links you’ve provided (thanks!)

          As I mentioned I’ve ordered some online from these guys hookandson.co.uk but would like to ultimately find a close by farm I can get the milk from. As for the whole paleo primal thing, well I don’t like labels much BUT if I had to then I’d say I eat more primally because I can and do like to eat raw cheeses, yoghurt etc.

          Thanks for your help!

    • If milk is stored in a jar with no neck (sides straight up and down…like the freezer canning jars), the jars won’t break. If there is any sort of neck, the jar will end up splitting….been there, done that with my raw milk. Now I use one use plastic milk jugs to freeze milk for my customers over winter.

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