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To Pasteurize or Not to Pasteurize: How to Prepare and Store Fresh Milk

Pasteurizing milk is essentially sterilizing it to get rid of any bacteria present. There is a great deal of debate over whether milk is safe to drink “raw,” as in unpasteurized, and many self-sufficiency advocate drinking raw milk because they say it is healthier than pasteurized milk. In fact, the two are nearly identical, and pasteurized milk also tends to last longer because the reason milk spoils is due to a buildup of bacteria. Pasteurizing gets rid of the bacteria it starts with, so it takes longer to build up more bacteria when it is stored at the proper temperature.

Another reason pasteurizing is a good idea is that observational signs of illness in goats and cows may not show up immediately. Problems and increased levels of bacteria can be transmitted before you ever see signs of illness on the surface. Cleanliness is important in milk collection whether you pasteurize or not, but more so if you do not intend to sterilize your milk.

Raw milk digestion problems are more common in very young and very old individuals. The reason for this is that pasteurization begins to break down the natural lactose in milk and turns it into beta-lactose. Beta-lactose is much easier for the body to digest. Raw milk can be hard even for adults to digest if they have any degree of lactose intolerance, but goat’s milk is much better to drink for those with milk-related digestion issues, either raw or pasteurized.

Because of the digestion problems and the difficulty in handling excess bacteria due to under-developed or weakened immune systems, if you are going to be feeding infants and toddlers milk from your animals or have elderly family members who will be drinking it, it is important to pasteurize.

Those who advocate raw milk claim pasteurization kills good bacteria as well as bad and also destroys many vitamins naturally present in milk, such as vitamin C. This is true, so you will have to weigh the good vs. the bad for yourself and decide on which method is best for you.

Keep in mind, if you are lucky enough to live in a cottage state that allows selling products off the farm and you want to sell your milk, you will likely be required to pasteurize it for legal reasons. Check with the laws of your state regarding the resale of milk and dairy products from the farm.

Steps to Clean Milk Collection

Thoroughly clean all milking equipment prior to collecting the milk. Wash the udder with a good cleansing wash, and keep the hair around the stomach and udder clipped short to avoid shedding into the milk. Always discard any milk that gets debris in it from moving animals or dropping dirt.

Processing the Raw Milk

Once you collect your milk, transfer it from the pail into jars by straining it with a milk strainer. This is a bowl-like apparatus that fits into the openings of most large-mouthed jars. Inside the bowl there is an opening at the bottom with a tight-fitting disk that has holes in it. Remove the disk and insert a milk filter—a pad that fits into the hole with the edges extending just over the opening so that when you replace the disk, it seals the filter in place between the bowl and disk.

Straining the milk helps get rid of any dirt or debris that is not visible, which can be in the air or on the animal at the time of milking. Straining the milk will not get rid of any bacteria present in the milk itself or alert you to any infectious problems that may be present in the milk, such as mastitis, an infection in the udder.

If you are not going to pasteurize, then place a thermometer in the milk and put the jar in a cold-water bath until it drops to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a cap on the jar and put in the refrigerator immediately.

Pasteurizing Milk for Longer Storage and Better Digestion

Pasteurizing milk is very easy. You don’t really need any fancy equipment. Of course you can buy a pasteurizer, but it simply does the same thing you can do yourself on the top of your stove. Pour your raw milk through the strainer into a large-mouth jar. Do not cover the jar.

Fill a large steel pot with water so that the level will submerge the jar up to the top of the milk level but not enter the opening of the jar. Place the pot on the stove.

Put a candy thermometer into the jar of milk, and clip it to the sides so that it does not touch the bottom of the jar and give a false reading. Place the jar in the pot of water.

Bring the pot of water to a boil, keeping constant watch on the milk, stirring regularly and checking the temperature. Stirring the milk before you check the temperature helps to even out the heat in the liquid so you can be certain all of the milk is heated to the same degree.

Heat the milk until it is 161 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of 30 seconds. If you prefer, and don’t want to risk scalding the milk, you can heat the milk to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and then keep it at that temperature for 30 minutes.

The first method is easier to maintain temperature wise, but the second method helps you avoid over boiling the milk if the temperature rises too quickly.

Remove the milk from the water after the proper amount of time and place it in a sink of cool water up to the milk level in the bottle. When the water gets warm, change it out for more cold water or add ice to the water to keep it cool longer.

Keep the milk in the cold-water bath until it reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Place it in the refrigerator for drinking, making cheese or cooking. Enjoy!

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