The untold story of the milk that we drink
You probably think that the milk you drink is healthy. After all, it comes in a clean looking box. You think you are loading up on calicium and vitamins. Think again.
When packaged milk was first introduced in Pakistan in 1981, the idea wasn’t welcome. In general, people thought packaged milk was not as healthy as loose fresh milk. An aggressive campaign was needed to change people's minds. How many of you remember the documentary aired on national television showing how free from germs and bacteria Tetra Pak milk is?
Today, I can say the campaigns succeeded. Lots of people have converted from traditional, loose, fresh milk provided by dairy farms. The packaged milk industry has evolved and there are many players in the industry.
But while the industry matured, did any of these companies evolve ethically as well?
What is packaged milk in Pakistan?
All leading packaged milk brands in Pakistan are UHT (Ultra Heat Treatment) treated. UHT involves heating milk at a temperature of 135 degrees Celsius (which is above boiling point) for a few seconds and then cooling it down.
What happens when milk is heated at such a high temperature? It loses its nutritional value, taste and smell. True, micro-bacteria are killed in this process, but we should also be aware of the fact that not all bacteria are bad for us and this process also kills the good ones. Once going through the UHT process, the milk we buy has an artificial smell and taste added to it. What I don’t know is whether additional nutrients are added to the milk or not. The process also involves homogenization, which ensures that milk and water are not separated (so curdling doesn’t happen). In a nutshell, the milk provided to us is nothing but treated liquid sold as milk.
The milk is then packed between five to six layers of cardboard, polythene and aluminum sheets. This is done to preserve the milk for a longer period of time. The shelf life of milk in Tetra Pak is six to nine months and can be kept at room temperature without curdling. It doesn’t curdle or get contaminated because it is kept away from light and bacteria.
However, this is not healthy. Tetra Pak packing has been found to release chemicals in to milk such as urea. And of course it is also simply not fresh.
Do we any alternative?
No, sadly, we do not have any alternative. This does not mean we start consuming loose milk. I am aware of the fact it contains bacteria. Aside from the fact that hygienic methods of milking are not practiced in Pakistan, the containers for loose milk are not clean and we are can never be sure how much milk we use is actually water.
So what’s the solution?
The solution lies with consumer groups and health organisations providing us with UHT milk. Across the world the preferred method of pasteurization is HTST ( High Temperature Short Time). This process involves heating milk to 75 degree Celsius for 15 to 20 seconds and then cooling it down. This kills almost all bad bacteria while nutritional value and taste stay intact. This milk can be preserved for up to a week or two in a refrigerator.
However, in Pakistan the weather allows the milk to be kept for only 4 to 6 days in a refrigerator. As far as I know UHT milk is not used anywhere else in the world, not even in India. Amul and Mother India both provide consumers with HTST milk.
Unfortunately, not a single company in Pakistan employs this method of pasteurization for milk. But why? If they charge consumers for healthy milk why don't they offer it?
Firstly because HTST milk has less shelf life. As it requires refrigeration, storage conditions are limited. Why should these companies spend extra money when people are so easily fooled with the name of UHT and have no awareness of HTST milk?