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Why do European milk has shorter shelf life?

Shelf life of European milk is typically about 4 days while the milk sold in America is usually more than a week.
Do we process the milk differently? Also, is this the reason why European milk and milk products taste so good?

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  1. Maybe because milk there is unpasteurized? And maybe it has far more fat than 4% of our wholemilk...

    1 Reply
    1. re: welle

      My observation, milk in England/France/Holland/Germany is usually pasteurized, just as in N Am. "Whole milk" in N Am now down to 3.25% BF, less than in Europe (& less than >whole< milk usually contains) & homogenized, which definitely changes the flavour as you don't get that lovely mouth-coating BF with the first sip.

    2. Ok, ok, I am a jerk, but today the grammarian in me has been really bad so apologies before-hand, but shouldn't it be milks have or does have?

      Now to answer your question: We put stuff in it. Pasteurize it (although a lot of places now do in Europe) and put other chemicals in it because Americans are all about adding things to make it "better." Also Europeans don't keep their milk refrigerated at as cold of temperatures as we do in the U.S. normally.

      6 Replies
      1. re: ktmoomau

        Somewhat ironic since pasteurization was a French development.

        1. re: Blueicus

          not so ironic... all good things should be enjoyed in moderation...

        2. re: ktmoomau

          Milk in Europe is also pasteurized but we don't put vitamine D or anything else in it.
          And milk is refrigerated in supermarkets and at home in Europe (as long as it is not ultapasteurized which tastes horrible anyway).

          1. re: honkman

            The milk I used to buy in England, Cravendale, lasted at least two weeks. It was pasteurized and then filtered, but sold fresh, not UHT (or ultrapasturized). It was nice!

          2. re: ktmoomau

            What do Americans put in milk besides vitamins? Vitamin D and Vitamin A palmitate (low fat milk.) Not sure if anything else is allowed.

            1. re: ktmoomau

              That might have been more or less correct before World War II, but not since, certainly not in the past 40 years. Unpasteurized milk is generally more available there, but is not at all "common" - which would be a terrible thing from a public health standpoint. (Having it be available to those who want it, and presumably understand it's short shelf life and the need to be reasonably sanitary about it, is one thing, having it be the norm as plain old "milk" in supermarkets would be ludicrous and is not done in any developed country in the world and probably very few undeveloped ones either unless you get your milk directly from yours or the village cow...)

            2. I don't know where you lived in Europe but I am from Germany and milk for the last 30 years does have shelf life longer than 4 days. (on average about two weeks which is comparable to the US if you don't buy ultrapasteurized stuff).

              1 Reply
              1. re: honkman

                Agreed. Also, there's plenty of milk that is not refrigerated at all until it's opened-- such a variety is more pasteurized than the types sold here (unless we're talking about evaporated milk, aka Kondensmilch, and not to be confused with condensed milk as is known in the States).

              2. Strangely enough, on my first visit to Italy we were down in Puglia, where the only liquid milk we ever saw for sale was the Parmalat ULTRA-pasteurized stuff, sitting right out on the grocery shelves. My sister told me you do have to refrigerate it once it's opened. I don't know what the open shelf life is; she, her husband and their two boys went through at least a liter a day.

                15 Replies
                1. re: Will Owen

                  We have that in the US I use it a lot for baking. The box says 2 weeks after opening, but I have kept mine much longer and it seems to be fine. I can't tell you exactly how long though.

                  1. re: ktmoomau

                    Ultra-pasteurized milk is fine for baking and cooking, but it tastes awful for drinking, both the septic (shelf-stable) packaging like Parmalat and most of the fresh organic milk in stores.
                    I guess Europeans have gotten used to it since it's been around so long and not many adults drink milk as a beverage like in the US.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      I'm with you on Parmalat for drinking. I had never tried some and it got some good press on the television so I bought a liter from the local grocery store. Awful doesn't begin to describe how bad it tasted. It tasted like it was infused with plastic from the container. I threw it out immediately.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Most adult human beings can't digest it. I've read that the only racial/ethnic groups in which the inability to digest fluid milk is NOT the norm are Northern Europeans and the Masai...and this Northern-European-descended white boy can't drink it anymore either, darn it. I'm sure this explains why the cold dairy case is not a feature of the typical Italian grocery store...

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          What I've read (which makes some intuitive sense, though it may be false) is that the body's production of lactase slows down young if you don't drink it regularly. I'm not what I'd call lactose intolerant but if I drink a lot of fluid milk on any given day, I, er, can tell what I was drinking that day. ;) (No other form of dairy does that to me, just a lot of milk in a short space of time.)

                          1. re: MikeG

                            I drank at least two glasses a day until I was in my mid-twenties, and at least one a day after then, until the morning I had my usual Instant Breakfast (drunk as a beverage along with my non-instant breakfast!) and received Marching Orders from my innards about five minutes later. Thought it was a fluke, but after two more days I figured it was chemicals in the I.B. powder, and I'd stick with just milk...but no such luck.

                            I can drink a glass of buttermilk very slowly with no problem, but even Lactaid goes right on through. So it has to be something other than simple lactose intolerance.

                        2. re: MakingSense

                          I can see keeping it around for emergencies if the nearest store is 20 minutes away, but if you won't drink it, why would you "want" to cook with it?

                          But the real reason I'm posting is that I assume/hope that was just a typo, but since so many people believe everything they read, I figured I'd point it out: What the stuff is put up in is Aseptic packaging - meaning sterilized - not septic - meaning overwhelmed by pathogenic bacteria. :)

                          1. re: MikeG

                            What most people find objectionable about the taste is the "cooked" flavor of ultrapasteurization, which many find unpalatable for drinking. If you are going to cook with it anyway, that isn't a detriment. Cooking it further won't make any significant difference.

                            Thanks for correcting the typo. As this type of packaging becomes more common in the US, I imagine more people will want to know about it.

                          2. re: MakingSense

                            Actually on average the milk consumption (also for adults) in Europe is higher than in the US. It is much more common in Europe to drink milk as a beverage than in US.


                            1. re: honkman

                              I'm surprised by that - I have lived in the Netherlands, where people do indeed drink milk, but also in Italy and France, where it is almost unheard of for adults to do so (except perhaps pregnant women, or people with ulcers). But France and Italy have much larger populations than the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries - and I don't think people drink a lot of liquid milk in Germany, from the time I was there (except a friend who was pregnant, and a vegetarian). They do eat a lot of cheese, which is fermented and easier to digest, and in many countries yoghourt and other fermented or processed milk products.

                              In Mediterranean countries goat's and ewe's products are commont. A godsend for those of us who have a hard time processing cow juice!

                              1. re: lagatta

                                It is very common for adults to drink milk in Germany and also depending of the region in Italy and France many adults drink milk on a daily basis. I am not surprised by the statistics that European are drinking more milk than Americans

                              2. re: honkman

                                I think they are taking into consideration having milk with coffee (café con leche, cafe au lait, etc.) or hot chocolate. The country where I live is near the top of the list and I've never seen any adult drink a straight glass of milk.

                                1. re: honkman

                                  I live in Woodside, Queens NY with large Irish migrant worker population (not as large as it used to be but still more than anywhere in NYC). In the diners here, I've seen Irish guys downing 2-3 full tall glasses of whole milk with their meals. I'm not surprised to see Ireland in the top 3 in the table provided by honkman's link.

                            2. re: Will Owen

                              People in Italy, especially southern Italy, rarely drink milk, except in coffee drinks. They do consume cheeses, mmm, wonderful goat's and ewe's cheeses that I can digest!

                              And in recent years yoghourt (originally more Greek and other Balkan) has crossed the Adriatic to Italy.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                The milk we got at Switzerland was also ultra-pasteurized and it sat out at the common area for the whole day without any the worse for wear.

                                Stater Bros (grocery chain in CA) has an organic brand called Full Circle and the milk is ultra pasteurized, but it is refridgerated. It's funny because other posters hated the taste, but this is the only milk my 9 year old will drink.

                              2. i just found from Alton Brown's show out it's the temperature the Europeans use to pasturize the milk. They pasturize their milk at a much lower temperature thus giving that nice taste.

                                1. I'm guessing it's the difference in what is put in the cows from birth.

                                  1. Where did you see 4 days? Most of the milks in EU have at least 10 days of shelf-life and these are the returnable glass bottle varieties. Other packaging options increase the refridgerated shelf-life into weeks....

                                    1. When I livd in Greece, irradiated milk was the norm. Packaged in plastic lined white paper bags that had an expandable botton so they would stand up on the shelf. No regrigeration required until after opening. Once chilled, it didn't taste any different than standard American homogenized milk to me. For whatever reason, historically the USDA is extremely conservative about irradiated food. Europeans have been drinking/using irradiated milk for decades with no discernable ill effects.

                                      11 Replies
                                        1. re: Pollo

                                          That's what I was gold by the Greek shopkeeper. I took him at his word. It was fifteen or so years ago, and I don't recal if the milk was packaged/produced in Greece or somewhere else. Anyway, I drank it and used it on cereals with no discernable harm. I find no information about irradiated milk sales through Google.

                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                          Back when I went to Germany in 1993 (where I stayed with my aunt and uncle who were there with the US Military in Darmstadt) they had fresh milk available at the commisary on base, but I was told that in general, fresh milk was unusual to find ni Germany, and most of the milk there was irradiated. Back over here, I usually get Darigold brand ultra pasteurized 2% milk in half-gallon cartons, and actually find it to be quite good compared to the usual 2% milk here. It also has an apparent shelf life of six weeks (the carton I bought yesterday has an expiration date of December 4th) although I don't usually let it go that long.

                                          1. re: Vexorg

                                            I do not want to sound like a smart you know what but as of right now irradiated milk is not sold in any EU country....not sure about the rest of the world but based on what I know there really is no need. If you want shelf-stable product you can get UHT milk in a plastic bottle or carton with a life of at least 18 months. Plus since the european processors can optimize the heat treatement the flavor is much superior to what is available in the US....these "bad flavor" UHT milk stories from 20 years back are history...

                                            1. re: Pollo

                                              I disagree. I've tried some UHT Parmalat here in the States and it was awful. It had a terrible plastic flavor.

                                              1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                I don't think the Parmalat in the US is actually imported from Italy--like a lot of products, I think it is produced in the US strictly for the US market.

                                                1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                  The way UHT is done in the US is....how should I put it....through a "more crude" process....less precise temp. control plus over-processing to be on the "safe" side kills the flavor....

                                                  1. re: Pollo

                                                    "Crude" processing and "less precise temp. control" would indicate poor quality control and possible unsafe processing conditions. What food company is doing this and why have they been allowed to continue marketing their UHT milk in the US if what you allege is true?

                                                    Although many of us object to the "cooked" flavor of UHT milk, food safety is a different issue. Please clarify if you have specific information about your allegations.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      Please read my post again...it's in English and last time I checked "crude" processing and "less precise temp. control" do not mean what you are stating....

                                                2. re: Pollo

                                                  I disagree. I don't like the taste of UHT milk (which I bought in UK), and only ever bought it for emergency use in coffee and tea. Could never drink a glass of it - ugh!

                                              2. re: Caroline1

                                                Caroline, irradiated milk has been exposed to UV rays to add vitamin D, and probably clean it up a bit.

                                                Irradiated food, as widely objected to, is exposed to gamma rays or other much more powerful systems.

                                                Carnation used to sell irradiated milk in the US decades ago. Try searching "irradiated milk" and Carnation, and you'll find a quote from their old cook book.