Today is National Milk Day: Got Milk?

Happy National Milk Day! Many people start the day with a glass of milk and toast or cereal and milk. Or perhaps some people prefer milk in their coffee or tea. Nonetheless, milk continues to play the role as a nutritious, calcium-rich beverage. According to 2017 USDA reports, the average American consumes 149 pounds of milk. This may seem like a large amount, however, the milk consumption has declined over the decades because of the dairy-free alternatives that are currently available.

Milk goes through a complex process to get from dairy cows to store shelves. The steps include: rearing, harvesting, storing, transportation, lab testing, processing, packaging, and selling.

During the rearing process, cows are either kept in free range, grazing on grass, or they are kept in confined feeding operations where they feed on grain in close quarters. During the harvesting process, cows are typically milked twice day, either by hand or by machine. The milk is then stored in a refrigerated vat prior to being transported to a lab for testing. Milk that meets lab standards is then taking for further processing. This further processing includes pasteurization (heating the milk for a certain period of time), homogenization (fat particles are dispersed evenly throughout the milk, separation (milk is spun in a centrifuge to separate the cream from the milk and reintroduced to provide desired fat content), and further processing. Finally, the milk is ready to be packaged and delivered to stores!

Let’s take a look at how milk production was done in the past. In an article featured in July 31, 1913 Bridgeton Pioneer , the Department of Agriculture works to develop higher standards in milk production. The image below, showing government workers taking bacterial count in the milk, emphasizes the importance of not only taking a count of the bacteria, but also identifying possible disease causing bacteria.

The Department of Agriculture also made the initiative to provide testing kits to farmers, which in return, motivated them to introduce sanitary measures to prepare and package milk.

Government experts testing bacteria in the milk.

The Department also introduced pasteurization as a precautionary safeguard where prior inspection does not guarantee the purity of the milk.

Government workers placing milk in separator.

The article also mentions the importance to educate the consumer. Although the Department works to prevent dangerous milk from getting on the shelves, there is some milk that is still being sold in small towns and suburbs even though it did not pass health inspection in major cities.

The government did its first investigation in Cincinnati where from 1908 to the present there was a 33% decline in infant mortality thanks to the contributions made by the health department. Prior to 1908, little measures were taken to pasteurize the milk and ensure proper conditions for packaging and transportation.

The Department of Agriculture works on educating all contributing links to the process to ensure health and safety of the communities.

Worker testing milk for deadly bacteria.

(Contributed by Kristi Chanda)


“How Milk Gets from the Cow to the Store – Milk –” Milk, 26 Mar. 2020,

McCarthy, Niall, and Felix Richter. “Infographic: Milk’s Massive American Decline.” Statista Infographics, 13 May 2019,

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