SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Organic milk’s month-long shelf-life may be worth the extra price for consumers who can’t manage to finish off a gallon before it goes bad. 

There are scientific reasons why organic milk lasts longer, contains fewer bacteria, has a longer expiration date, and tastes sweeter. But to understand the science, it helps to understand a brief history of milk.

A brief history of milk consumption

Mankind began using dairy thousands of years ago.

As time passed, milk became an important food source for many regions. Certain herbs were added to fresh milk to keep it from spoiling and now science can explain why these techniques actually worked.

Then the French started having problems with their wine and everything changed.

It was the 1860s and wine in France began tasting sour, bitter, or sometimes didn’t have a flavor at all. King Napoleon III requested that Louis Pasteur experiment to find the problem, and Pasteur obliged. He pinpointed the exact time and temperature it took to kill harmful microorganisms in wine without changing the taste and called the process pasteurization. Pasteurization was soon used in the production of beer and vinegar, and by the late 1800s, pasteurization was used in batches of milk. 

Through the generations, pasteurization was improved and has worked so well at preventing disease that tuberculosis, once spread through the milk of infected cows, no longer makes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of foodborne illnesses in the United States.     

But there has been a downside to the eradication of diseases that came as a result of pasteurization.

Some breeds of cows are slowly going extinct

Today many of the amazing breeds of cattle raised by Americans in previous generations—cattle that easily survive in rugged conditions on unmanaged grasses and provide milk, meat, and draft power—are now considered “heritage” cows and are slowly going extinct. Breeds like Guernsey, Red Poll, and Milking Shorthorns are disappearing.

Cattle such as the Canadienne, Dutch Belted, Kerry, Lincoln Red, Milking Devon and the Randall are all listed as critical on The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List.

So is the Texas Longhorn.

As commercial dairies and cattle farms have risen to the top of the American food chain, the “heritage” cows from American history have been replaced by newer, more productive breeds.

A Holstein female named Doc was sold in June for $1.925 million for her “high genetic transmissibility.”

Breeding obviously matters when it comes to modern-era milk production, whether it’s organic or conventional.

But so, too, does sanitation.

What can contaminate milk?

Milk can become contaminated by animal feces, infected livestock udders, animal and environmental diseases, and unsanitary conditions during processing.  

These reasons, and more, are why the United States began pasteurizing milk in the 1920s. The goal was to reduce contamination and human illnesses, and now pasteurization is considered one of public health’s most effective food safety inventions ever.  

The Food and Drug Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, and many other organizations recommend pasteurization for all milk consumed by humans.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that from 1993 through 2012, 127 outbreaks were linked to raw milk, mostly caused by Campylobacter, E. coli, or Salmonella.  

“Reported outbreaks represent the tip of the iceberg,” the CDC warns.   

Why does organic milk taste sweeter and last longer?

Now organic milk undergoes a process called ultrapasteurization to help organic dairies deliver their products long distances to you, the consumer.   

In ultrapasteurization, milk is heated to 280° Fahrenheit for two seconds. 

In traditional pasteurization, milk is heated to 161° Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  

This higher rate of heating caramelizes some of the sugars in milk and sweetens the flavor, making it taste different than milk that has not been ultrapasteurized.  

Ultrapasteurization kills more bacteria and extends milk’s expiration date of 40 to 60 days before it’s opened. Compare this to a 15-17 day expiration date for milk pasteurized the conventional way.  

Unfortunately, ultrapasteurization reduces some of milk’s vitamin and protein content and leaves milk unsuitable for making cheese.  

There are fewer organic dairy farms in the U.S. compared to conventional dairies, so it is essential that organic dairies deliver their products longer distances. Ultrapasteurization makes these long-distance deliveries possible.

And although higher costs are associated with the production of organic milk, organic dairy farms frequently make higher gross and net profits when compared to conventional dairies.