Processing of Milk From the Cow to the Grocery Store

Updated November 21, 2016

When you imagine how milk gets from the cow to a store shelf, you may have an old-fashioned idea of what happens. In the movies, cows are milked by-hand by the farmer. Nowadays, a very different process occurs. Technology has entered the milk production process, making the job faster and easier, as well as safer from a public health point of view.

Rearing the Cows

Dairy cows are either free range, or live on a farm and roam freely and eat grass, or they are kept inside and fed grains or hay. The buildings these cows are kept in are called confined animal feeding operations. Sometimes, very large dairy farms feed the animals hormones to increase milk production.

Milking the Cows

Milking machines are used to milk cows. The cow's teat is enclosed in a vacuum tube, which forces the milk out of the cow's udder. Milking usually occurs twice daily.

Milk Storage

Time is critical when it comes to storing milk. Milk cannot be kept fresh on a farm for more than 48 hours, and is kept in milk silos or vats at a constant temperature of 3.89 degrees Celsius.

Transportation of the Milk

Tanker trucks arrive at farms at least every-other day. The tanker truck driver evaluates the milk and either accepts or rejects it. The milk is pumped into the insulated tanker truck, then taken to the dairy factory.

Milk Testing

Milk must be tested on a variety of variables before it enters the milk processing area. It is tested for levels of milkfat and protein, as well as for antibiotics. If the milk is not rejected, it can be sent to large milk silos in the factory to await processing.

Processing Milk

Approved milk goes through a series of processes before it is ready to be packaged. It is pasteurised (heated and cooled), homogenised (breaking up the fat molecules and circulating them throughout the milk), and separated (separating the cream, then replacing it to create desired milkfat levels).

Packaging and Transporting the Milk to the Store

Milk goes through a packaging machine in the factory. The milk is pumped into bottles or jugs, then transported to the stores in a refrigerated truck.

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