Answers to Your Most Common Dairy Questions
Mistreatment in any form is not tolerated on dairy farms. Cows and calves are the most important part of a dairy farm, so keeping them healthy and comfortable is a dairy farmer's number one priority. Providing regular checkups with veterinarians, access to fresh food and water 24 hours a day, shelters to keep them cool or warm, and ensuring farm workers receive training are just a few ways dairy farmers practice animal care.
All dairy farms, regardless of size, make animal care a top priority by providing their cows a nutritious diet, top-notch medical care, comfortable living conditions and well-trained farm workers. Dairy farms are also family businesses that span generations. 95% of dairy farms are owned and operated by families – just like your own!
Yes. Milk has a unique nutrient package that is hard to replace and impossible to replicate with any other single food, plus milk is affordable! Milk contains essential nutrients like high-quality protein – which helps build and repair muscle – and calcium and vitamin D, keys to building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Milk also contains B vitamins, which can help your body convert food into fuel. Milk, cheese and yogurt are nutrient-rich and contribute significant nutrition to Americans’ diets. Additionally, milk and dairy foods have been studied for decades, and research continues to point to its many health benefits.
Enjoying three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt is a delicious way to help build stronger bones and healthier bodies with a powerful package of nutrients. Milk offers a unique combination of 13 essential nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, selenium and protein, which are vital to a healthy immune system. Studies show that dairy foods, when eaten as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality and may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
Yes, low-fat and fat-free milk have the same calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals, and naturally occurring sugar as whole milk. The only difference in these milks is in their fat (and calorie) content. Whole milk is 3.25% fat, while fat-free or skim milk has nearly all of the fat removed.
While whole and reduced-fat dairy foods contain more calories than low-fat and fat-free versions, new science on full-fat dairy foods supports reassessing their role in healthy eating patterns. Agreement among scientists regarding current recommendations for full-fat versus low-fat dairy has yet to reached, but what’s clear is that enjoying nutrient-rich dairy foods – regardless of fat content – is associated with maintaining overall health.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings of dairy foods daily for those 9 years and older, 2.5 servings per day for children aged 3-8 years; 2 servings per day for children aged 2 years, 1.5 to 2 servings for toddlers 12 to 23 months of age, and small amounts of yogurt and cheese for infant 6 to 12 months, depending on developmental readiness. (1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese equals one serving).
The National Academy of Sciences recommends American adults consume 1,000-1,300 milligrams of calcium per day, depending on age and gender. Eating three daily servings of milk, cheese or yogurt can help you meet these recommendations. Teens and those over age 50 have higher calcium needs and may need four daily servings of dairy foods.
To find out how much calcium you need — and how many Americans aren’t getting enough — see Calcium: How do you measure up?
More than just calcium, milk, yogurt and cheese also contain other essential nutrients needed for health and well-being. While a calcium supplement may help you meet your daily calcium needs, you will likely miss out on other important nutrients that dairy foods provide. Good nutrition depends on overall healthful eating, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Institutes of Health and American Academy of Pediatrics believe that we should try to meet our nutrient needs through food first. In fact, consuming calcium primarily from dietary sources rather than supplements affects estrogen metabolism and positively impacts bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine. 6
Milk, yogurt and cheese are among American’s top sources of calcium, potassium and magnesium – a trio of minerals known to play an important role in maintaining blood pressure. Dairy foods have been effective in lowering blood pressure, specifically as part of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet is a research-based diet shown to lower blood pressure as effectively as some medications. It is based on the principle that including potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber-rich foods in a balanced diet – rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods – will help the body naturally lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the American Heart Association and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Dairy foods provide a unique mix of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and vitamin D that work together to help protect bones by maximizing bone density and slowing age-related bone loss. The positive link between calcium in dairy products and bone health has been established for decades through dozens of clinical studies.
- Research shows dairy foods, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality and may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.1-3
- A study from the University of Oxford found that women who have low dietary calcium intakes have an increased risk of bone fractures. 4
- A 2006 study in pediatrics found that adolescent girls who thought they were milk intolerant consumed less calcium and had lower bone mineral content in the spine than girls who did not think they were milk intolerant.5
French doctor and scientist Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization more than a century ago. It’s the process of heating milk to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds to destroy harmful bacteria while maintaining milk’s quality, taste and nutritional value. There is also a type of pasteurization called ultra-high temperature, which heats milk to 275 degrees Fahrenheit for three seconds. This method is what makes a shelf-stable (refrigeration not required for storage) milk possible. Since its discovery, pasteurization has safeguarded much of our food supply, including milk and dairy products. Federal regulations require that all milk intended for direct consumption be pasteurized as a matter of food safety. Some state laws circumvent these regulations by allowing raw milk sales through farms and cow shares. All raw milk sold to consumers in the United States is required to be labeled as such.
Just like humans, cows sometimes get sick and need medicine. On a conventional dairy farm, a sick cow can be treated with an antibiotic. She continues to be milked while on the antibiotic, but her milk is collected separately and discarded until it tests free of antibiotics. All milk is tested for antibiotics before it is ever processed to ensure antibiotics stay out of the milk supply.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend that no one consume unpasteurized (also known as “raw”) milk. Potentially harmful bacteria – such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella – are common in the environment and may find their way into milk before it is processed, even when the highest on-farm food safety standards are in place. Pasteurization is a simple, effective method to kill potentially harmful bacteria. It does not affect the nutritional value of milk in any meaningful way.
Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in all cows. Its physiological function is to help young cattle grow and adult cows to produce milk. A small amount of bST is naturally present in all milk, including organic milk. A synthesized copy of bST – recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) – is available for farmers who choose to use the hormone as a farm management tool to boost their herd’s milk production. Health authorities, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have determined that milk from cows treated with rbST is both nutritious and safe.
Dairy farmers have responded to requests for choices in the dairy aisle, and most milk found at the grocery store is from cows not treated with rBST. This decision is a result of demand and is not related to any health or safety issue. All milk is wholesome, safe and nutritious.
Milk has consistently been found to contain either no pesticide residue whatsoever or levels that rank among the lowest of all agricultural products. Stringent government standards ensure that all milk – whether organic or regular – is safe, wholesome and nutritious.
Yes and no; each dairy product is a bit different.
Freezing does not harm the milk but does cause the milk to separate, changing its texture and appearance, and possibly affecting its taste. If you must freeze milk, ensure there is extra space in the container to allow for the liquid to expand.
Cheese can be frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, but it may become mealy and crumbly when thawed, best used in salads as toppings or in cooked dishes – preferably as soon as possible after thawing. Some cheeses are better frozen than others.
Freezing yogurt is safe, but will change the consistency and quality of the product. In some cases, freezing yogurt – specifically if planning to use in smoothies or as a frozen treat – may be preferable. Just make sure to use the frozen yogurt within four months.
- Refrigerate milk at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less as soon as possible after purchase.
- Store in the original container.
- Return milk to the refrigerator immediately after pouring.
- Never return unused milk to the original container.
- Keep milk containers closed to prevent the absorption of other flavors (an absorbed flavor changes the taste, but the milk is still safe).
- Protect milk from exposure to strong light, since light can reduce its riboflavin content and cause off-flavors.
- If properly cared for, milk generally stays fresh two to three days past the “sell by” or “pull-by” dates on milk cartons.
- Store dry milk in a cool, dry place and keep in an air-tight container after opening. Once reconstituted, dry milk should be refrigerated and handled like other fluid milks.
- Keep cheese at a temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Store in the original wrapper or in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
- Generally, harder (low-moisture) cheeses keep longer in the refrigerator than softer (higher-moisture) cheeses.
- Store yogurt in closed containers in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain its quality.
- Store yogurt for up to one week, on average. Prolonged refrigeration of yogurt should be avoided as yogurt bacteria tend to decrease in viability and numbers over time.
Other Dairy Products
- Buttermilk. Buttermilk will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator.
- Butter. To preserve butter’s flavor and freshness, refrigerate opened butter in a covered dish in the butter compartment. Unopened, wrapped salted butter may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.
- Cream. Keep it refrigerated in its closed container at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. It should be used within one week. Ultra-pasteurized cream keeps several weeks longer, but once opened, it should be handled like pasteurized cream.
Every carton of milk sold in the United States is clearly labeled with a “sell by,” “pull,” “use by” or “best if used by” date. Each of these dates means something different.
- The “sell by” and “pull” dates refer to how long a grocery store can keep the product in the dairy case. This date takes into account time for the food to be used at home, so you should buy the product before the “sell by” or “pull” date, but you don’t have to use it by then. If properly refrigerated, milk will stay fresh for two to three days after this date, perhaps longer.
- The “use by” date is similar to the “best if used by” date; both refer to the last date that the product is likely to be at peak flavor and quality. If kept cold and stored properly, you may have fresh, wholesome milk and dairy products for more than a week past the “use by” or “best if used by” date. When in doubt, let your nose be the guide; if it doesn’t smell right, toss it out.
Whey protein is a high-quality protein found naturally in cow’s milk. Compared to many other proteins on a gram-to-gram basis, whey protein delivers more essential amino acids to the body and is absorbed quickly and efficiently.
Probiotics are “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host,” according to the United Nations Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Traditionally, these “friendly bacteria” were found in fermented foods, such as yogurt and cultured milk, but can now be found as an added ingredient in some milk and cheese products as well. Some strains of probiotics have been associated with digestive health, while others may benefit the immune system.
No. “Dairy” specifically refers to milk from a cow and products made from that milk, such as cheese, yogurt and butter; eggs come from chickens or other birds. While eggs may be stored near the dairy in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, they are not considered a dairy food.
Lactose intolerance doesn’t have to mean dairy food avoidance. In fact, research shows that many individuals who are lactose intolerant can enjoy the recommended three daily servings of dairy foods by:
- Drinking lactose-free milk (real milk, just without the lactose)
- Drinking small amounts of regular milk
- Eating yogurt with live and active cultures (friendly bacteria and enzymes which help digest lactose)
- Eating aged cheeses, which are naturally low in lactose
Everyone is different in the amount of lactose they can tolerate, and anyone experiencing problems digesting dairy should ask a doctor to determine if the cause is actually lactose intolerance (a difficulty digesting the sugar in milk) or a milk allergy (an immune reaction to the protein in milk). A doctor can diagnose lactose intolerance with a simple breath test.