How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?

Does your child sulk and refuse to touch a glass of milk? Perhaps, it is time to tell her a story about the interesting journey a glass of milk takes, from the big farms to her little hands!

By Siddiqha Naseem

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
A girl upset over drinking milk
“It does not taste good; I don’t want it!”

Are you one of those moms whose kids refuse to finish their glass of milk? Well, coaxing children to consume their daily dose of calcium is an everyday struggle we all are too familiar with. 

While we take so much effort to make them drink it, do we know the story behind how milk is collected, stored, processed, packaged and distributed? Are we aware if the milk is safe for consumption and how? Today, as we celebrate World Milk Day, we are here to take you on a journey that will answer all those persisting questions. Let's get right to it!

Where does the journey of milk begin?

The farms of course! There are two kinds of dairy farms – small dairy farms and large dairy farms. Let’s take a look at each.

Small dairy farms

Farmers from small dairy farms in their villages, take care of around five milk-giving animals in their own backyard. Both the men and women of the family share equal responsibilities in taking care of the herd. The women feed the cows every day and milk them. The men, on the other hand, make sure the animals receive medical attention and manage the dairy business and the finances associated with it.

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
Woman milking a cow
“Ramu (a home cow) is like a member of our family. He was born on our farm. We love him so much that my 5-year-old daughter celebrates his birthday with a cake.” says Kannaiya, who sells milk on a bike.

Large dairy farms

Farmers falling under the large dairy farm sector, consider this as their major source of income. It is also referred to as the 'commercial' sector. These farms have more than 10 to 15 animals and also, their own milking machines and milk parlours.

A dairy farmer who can yield more than 100 litres of milk a day from his farm, fall under this sector. In these large farms, the animals are let free in a big field to graze. They are fed and taken care of. When it’s time, they are walked to the milking parlour to get milked.

Interesting fact: Pedometers are attached to the animal’s leg. This helps to keep track of the number of steps it has taken in a day. If the total steps are less, it means the animal is sick and it should be examined by a vet.

The milking process

Before the milking process is initiated, the cow is evaluated. A quantity of milk is tested from each teat for any visible inadequacies or lack of quality. 

Types of milking procedure

1. Milking cows by machine: The milking equipment’s function is to extract milk from the udder without injuring the cow. The machines are cleaned and sterilised regularly to kill harmful bacteria and are only then put to use. This equipment makes the job quick and efficient and the process takes around 4-5 minutes per cow.

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
 Milking cows by machine

2. Milking cows by hand: Hand milking is a common and acceptable process, provided certain recommendations are followed. The first step is to clean the udder and lubricate the teats before milking. The milker gently pulls downward from the base of the teat and squeezes out the milk into a pail. This process usually takes 10-15 minutes.

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
Milking cows by hand

How is the milk taken to the milk plant?

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
The raw milk is taken to the milk plant in insulated tankers

Within a few hours of milking the cows, the raw milk is pumped into insulated tankers. These tankers are made of glass pipes and stainless-steel containers that cools the milk at 4.4° C. When the tankers reach the milk plant (factory) the milk is weighed and pumped into refrigerated tanks through stainless steels hoses.

Once the milk reaches the milk plan, a series of tests are conducted.

What kind of tests are run to check the quality of milk?

Important tests are carried out to find out if the milk is qualified for human consumption. Some of these tests include:

Checking for antibiotics: When a cow falls ill, it is treated with antibiotics and these might seep into the milk produced. Milk plants do not accept milk with any pathogens in it. Hence, if the milk contains any foreign elements, it is discarded.

Adulteration: Addition of certain substances to food that compromises on its quality is referred to as adulteration. Milk is usually mixed with unfavourable components such as water, starch, table sugar and chemicals like formalin. These elements can compromise the quality and cause serious ill effects. Hence, milk plants test every tank for adulteration.

Composition: A fat content test is done. The cow’s milk should have 4% fat and buffalo’s milk should have 6%. The solid-not-fat (SNF) test checks the lactose, minerals, proteins and caseins present in the milk.

What happens after the milk is tested?

Once the milk is tested and receives the stamp of quality, it is moved to undergo the process of sterilisation, where the milk is treated with heat. This procedure makes the milk further safer for consumption and also improves its shelf life. The entire process is called pasteurisation. 

Pasteurisation

Did you know?
The term Pasteurisation was derived from the name Louis Pasteur.

“Mothers always boil the milk to kill any pathogens before consumption. In a big scale industry, we cannot boil tonnes of milk. Hence, we use pasteurisation to eliminate all pathogens.” says an industrial expert from a leading milk company in India.

The common packet milk is treated at 72° C heat for 15 seconds and has a shelf life of 7 days when refrigerated at home. The tetra pack milk is heated at 140°C for 10 seconds and its shelf life is 90 days. Both are pasteurised milk. 

“You can drink pasteurised milk without boiling it. I try to convince my wife of this, but this habit of boiling milk is so ingrained in us, she still boils pasteurised milk!” the expert adds.

After pasteurisation, the same series of milk testing is conducted again. The milk is checked thoroughly for antibiotics, adulteration and composition. It is then sent for packaging.

How is milk packaged?

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
Milk packaging process

The milk is now ready to be packed and sent out for delivery. The pasteurised milk is made to flow through pipes to automated packaging machines that will fill and seal the milk in packets, bottles or tetra packs as required. 

The containers are then let in a line for the expiry date to be printed on them respectively. After the milk is packaged, the bottles and packets are stored in a refrigerated room. It is then sent to the local market to be bought and consumed by you and your child. 

How Much Has A Glass Of Milk Travelled To Get To You?
The journey of milk in a pictorial flowchart

Now every time you take a sip of your milk, you can feel content, knowing how safe it is for you and your child. And every time your child fusses, you have a story to tell!

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