If you’ve traveled overseas and ended up shopping for milk, you probably noticed something: Stores in Europe keep their milk on the shelves with the rest of the beverages, whereas American stores keep milk refrigerated. It may seem a little icky, but don’t let that stop you from drinking it. Their milk is safe stored that way.
Even at home in Europe – actually, in many parts of the world – milk is served at room temperature.
So, what’s the deal here?
It’s all in the processing. Most milk is pasteurized using high heat to kill bacteria. In the U.S. and Canada, we use a method called high-temperature short-time pasteurization, or HTST. HTST can be used to pasteurize large quantities of milk at a time. It’s also the cheap way to pasteurize…but it makes for a short shelf life. Milk pasteurized via HTST should be consumed within 10 days of opening, and it must be refrigerated.
In other parts of the world, they pasteurize via ultra-heat-treated pasteurization, or UHT, which heats milk to a much higher temperature that HTST. UHT pasteurized milk has an unrefrigerated shelf life of three months.
An effort was actually made a few decades ago to bring UHT milk to American consumers, but it never caught on because the taste ends up a bit different, and Americans were used to having their dairy cold.
Yet, as we start to focus on using less energy to mitigate the impending climate disaster, Americans could probably (hopefully) get used to keeping their milk in the pantry. After all, there are shelf stable soy and nut milks available in American stores, and even traditional dairy milk can be found on the shelf in single size packaging.
But before we unplug the fridge for good, consider all the ice cream and white wine. Let’s not go crazy.