Due to its composition, milk provides a good breeding ground for bacteria, which is why raw milk in particular is one of the most perishable foods. Milk today, thanks to pasteurization, is a very safe food. In addition to cow's milk, milk from other animal species, mostly sheep's and goat's milk, is also available.
Milk and dairy products contain high-quality protein and are, among other things, important suppliers of calcium and vitamin B12. According to the recommendations of the Austrian food pyramid, 3 portions of them should be consumed daily to ensure muscle maintenance and build-up.
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Raw milk is only filtered and cooled after milking. Milking in a cow shed is not a sterile process: Therefore, contamination of raw milk with pathogens such as Listeria, Campylobacter or STEC (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli) can never be completely ruled out, even with exemplary milking hygiene.
Infections with these bacteria can lead to serious diseases with possibly life-threatening consequences. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and immunocompromised persons in particular are at increased risk.
Raw milk that is sold directly to consumers, e.g. via raw milk vending machines or in farm stores, must therefore bear the notice "Raw milk, boil before consumption". During regular focus inspections, we check whether raw milk has an increased bacterial load and whether it is correctly labeled.
Situation in Austria
Milk and dairy products are regularly inspected as part of the official food inspection. In addition to the labeling and their condition (odor, taste and appearance), they are also examined for contamination with germs. Other aspects of testing include residues of hormones and veterinary drugs, as well as contamination with heavy metals or pesticides.
In 2021, 286 (15.2%) of 1,885 samples examined were rejected. The most frequent reasons for complaint were labeling deficiencies and/or misleading information. 34 samples (1.8%), 26 of which were cheese samples, were unfit for human consumption due to microbial contamination. Six samples (0.3%) were harmful to health due to detergent residues.
Dairy products are tested several times a year in the course of focus campaigns:
- Residue control program 2021 for milk, eggs and honey
- Residue control program 2020 for milk, eggs and honey
- Residue control program 2019 for milk, eggs and honey
- Residue control program 2018 for milk, eggs and honey
- Residue control program 2017 for milk, eggs and honey
- Audit in approved high-risk establishments processing food of animal origin (2021)
- Audit in approved high-risk establishments processing food of animal origin (2020)
- Revision in approved high-risk establishments processing food of animal origin (2019)
- Milkshakes and soft ice cream - microbiology and QAV
- Milk from milk vending machines - microbiology and QAV (2020)
- Pathogenic germs in animal foods from direct marketers and mountain pastures
- Microbiology and sugar content of milk products for schools and kindergartens
- Mare, donkey and buffalo milk and products thereof - microbiology and adulteration
- Raw milk in milk vending machines - microbiology and QAV (2017)
- Raw milk in milk vending machines - microbiology and QAV (2022)
- Microbiology of highly heated ESL milk and ESL sweet cream
Shelf life and consumption of milk
There is a wide variety of qualities of drinking milk on the Austrian market. As part of the Austrian research project ADDA(Advancement of Dairying in Austria), we conducted a survey with consumers and storage trials on the shelf life of ESL (extended shelf life) milk.
The aim of this study was to find out how consumers deal with this variety. Particular emphasis was placed on the topics of consumer behavior, storage conditions and shelf life in the household, as well as knowledge about ESL (extended shelf life) milk.
The results of the study can be found here.
Storage tests of ESL milk
We tested ESL milk samples according to the conditions recommended by manufacturers (6° C) as well as samples where the packages had already been opened or the storage temperature was 9° C.
The results show that Austrian ESL milk is of very good quality. Even after storage in the opened package or at a slightly increased storage temperature, no sample was found to be harmful to health.
However, since ESL milk is only heated for a short time, it will spoil if the storage temperature is too high.
It is therefore important to consume the milk within a few days of opening and to always comply with the storage conditions (especially temperature) specified by the manufacturer.
- If the milk will be consumed within a few days, fresh milk is best.
- If it is unclear when the milk will be consumed, buy "longer fresh" or "longer shelf life" milk.
- The appropriate types of milk for the pantry are shelf-stable milk or other ultra-high temperature milk products. These can be stored unopened at room temperature for long periods of time (see manufacturer's instructions).
- Do not interrupt the cold chain! During the hot summer months, a cooler bag is recommended for transporting purchases. Bring the milk home from the supermarket refrigeration as soon as possible. Milk that has been left unrefrigerated at the table for a long time while drinking coffee should be consumed or given away immediately afterwards
Storage & Consumption
- Always keep fresh milk and ESL milk refrigerated. Ideally at 4 - 6 °C. For this purpose, the refrigerator at home should be checked with a thermometer from time to time. Milk should not be placed in the refrigerator door, as it is too warm there.
- The indication of shelf life refers only to unopened and undamaged packages. Since this is a best-before date, milk from unopened packages in particular can often be used for longer, e.g. to make pudding.
- Do not drink from the package! There are many germs in the oral cavity. Some of these can not only cause the milk to spoil more quickly, but also begin to produce toxins which then lead to severe food poisoning.
- Once opened, milk should always be stored sealed in the refrigerator. Refrigerators can also harbor pathogens that don't die off in the cold and can get into open milk cartons. Aside from that, milk easily takes on odors from other foods.
Always boil raw milk before consumption!
Pasteurization was invented by the French chemist Louis Pasteur in 1864. Pasteurization is the short-term heating of liquid foodstuffs, during which most microorganisms can be killed. Today, this process is used for all drinking milk and has made boiling, which was common in the past, obsolete.
Classic pasteurized milk, as described in theAustrian Food Book, is heated only very briefly (15 seconds) to about 72 °C. The heat load is so low that it kills most microorganisms. The heat load here is so low that only a few changes in ingredients and taste can be detected.
If slightly higher temperatures are selected (85 °C, a few seconds), the shelf life of the milk is significantly extended. In this way, for example, "longer fresh" milk can be produced.
At even higher temperatures (135 °C, 1 second), the milk becomes long-life milk and can also be stored at room temperature.
Apart from heat treatment, only a few technological processes are used, such as homogenization or fat content adjustment by centrifugation.
Last updated: 10.10.2023