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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.