Got Milk may not have been a big marketing thing during the Bronze Age, but folks enjoyed moo juice back then, circa 3000 BCE. So says Christina Warinner, PhD, an assistant professor in the Harvard University Department of Anthropology.
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In recent studies, Dr Warinner and several international collaborators report the first direct evidence of milk consumption — not drawings of people sporting white mustaches, but rather whey protein beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), preserved in human dental calculus from the Bronze Age. “Using protein tandem mass spectrometry, we demonstrate that BLG is a species-specific biomarker of dairy consumption, and we identify individuals consuming cattle, sheep, and goat milk products in the archaeological record,” Dr. Warinner relates.
Fast forward to now, the big data age, and we’re still drinking milk. Per capita consumption of fluid milk in the U.S. in 2018 was 146 pounds, according to the USDA Economic Research Service’s Sept. 4, 2019 report. This represents a steady decline since 1975, when per capita consumption was 247 pounds.
In its Estimated Fluid Milk Products Sales Report dated Aug. 12, 2019, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) says 3.4 billion pounds of packaged fluid milk products were shipped by U.S. milk handlers in June 2019. This was 4.1 percent lower than a year earlier, AMS notes. Milk production in the United States during July 2019 totaled 18.3 billion pounds, up slightly from July 2018, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Aug. 19, 2019, Milk Production Report.
California leads the nation in number of milk cows with 1.728 million head for July 2019, 60,000 head less than July 2018, and 8,000 head less than June 2019, NASS reports. The Golden State also leads in milk production, boasting 3.378 million pounds in July 2019. Wisconsin ranks second in both number of milk cows, with 1.268 million head, and also in production, 2.606 million pounds, in July 2019, NASS says. New York comes in third in July 2019, with 627,000 milk cows (slightly ahead of Idaho), and fourth (just behind Idaho) in production, 1.288 million pounds, NASS relates.
Fluid Milk Innovation Contest
Doing its part to increase consumer interest in milk, on Aug. 1, 2019, the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) announced the launch of what it is touting as “one of the biggest dairy competitions of all time,” The Real California Milk Accelerator.
The Real California Milk Accelerator aims to promote innovation in the fluid milk category, according to John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “We are looking for ideas for new products that can be as varied as new flavor variations, nutrient or health improvements, marketing or packaging innovations, or that are environmentally conscious or sustainable,” Talbot says. “New or improved methods for producing, preparing, and packaging food and beverage products or ingredients and ensuring quality and safety are welcome, as are new and innovative beverage products or ingredients.”
Headquartered in Tracy, Calif., the CMAB, an instrumentality of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is funded by the Golden State’s dairy farm families. The CMAB executes advertising, public relations, research, and retail and foodservice promotional programs on behalf of California dairy products that carry the Real California Milk (RCM) seal, throughout the U.S. and internationally, Talbot relates.
“The Real California Milk Accelerator competition combines two of California’s great natural resources: sustainable California milk and California entrepreneurship,” Talbot says. “The competition intends to inspire innovation and investment in fluid milk products, packaging and capacity within California.”
To that end, CMAB is seeking high-growth potential liquid milk ideas, with cow’s milk making up at least 50 percent of their formulas.
“Applicants need to commit to producing the product in California for a period of 12 months, should they win the competition, thus making an economic impact on the dairy farmers of California, as well as the state’s dairy processing community,” Talbot notes. He mentions that it’s OK if applicants use milk from another state in development, but the products the judges taste during the competition must contain only California milk. “Moreover, applicants must agree to have the final product carry the Real California Milk seal,” he says.
Talbot says as many as eight applicants will receive $25,000 worth of support each, to develop a protocept, while receiving elite mentorship from marketing, packaging, and distribution experts. “Select applicants will also receive an expense-paid business development trip to California, to tour dairy farms and processing facilities, and to meet with industry leaders that will help drive the success of their new ventures,” he adds. “The winner will receive up to $250,000 worth of support to get their new product to market.”
The Real California Milk Accelerator competition is open to any persons who are legal residents of one of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia, are at least 18 years of age (or the age of majority in their state of residence if greater than 18), and who offer a promising liquid cow’s milk concept.
Applications for the competition were due Aug. 31, 2019. The judging process culminates with the announcement of the winner on Nov. 8, 2019, in the San Francisco Bay area.
Beverage Innovation Center
A new Beverage Innovation Center is in the works in America’s Dairyland at the Madison, Wis.-based University of Wisconsin (UW) Center for Dairy Research (CDR), according to John Lucey, PhD, UW professor of Food Science and CDR director. “The Beverage Innovation Center will allow the CDR to work with companies and entrepreneurs to develop shelf stable milk-based beverages,” Dr. Lucey says. “We expect to be fully operational by June 2020.”
“We will have a 3,000-square-foot pilot plant outfitted with the specialized equipment needed to run small batches of extended shelf life and aseptic beverages,” Dr. Lucey relates. “We will also provide technical assistance to dairy producers and entrepreneurs that want to create new beverages using milk and milk-based ingredients. When the Beverage Innovation Center is up and running, we believe there will be no other public facility quite like it in the United States.”
Relative to packaging in the Beverage Innovation Center, Dr. Lucey says the initial goal is to have a small-scale, aseptic bottling system that has undergone some validation as being safe for human consumption. “We plan to set up a system that will be able to generate a couple hundred bottles from a single batch within about two hours,” he relates. “In the future, we hope to explore pouch packaging possibilities.”
Shelf-stable beverages that contain some dairy ingredients are an area of promising growth and innovation for the dairy industry, Dr. Lucey points out. “These products offer high-quality dairy proteins and can have other unique characteristics like being lactose free,” he says. “In addition, since these products are stable and have a long shelf life, they could potentially be exported.”
Exciting Quality and Safety Tools
Data analytics and molecular biology are two of the most exciting tools available for determining milk quality and safety today, according to Martin Wiedmann, PhD, Gellert family professor of food safety in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
These tools are especially important in light of what Dr. Wiedmann believes are the biggest quality and safety issues presently impacting fluid milk: post-pasteurization microbiological contamination and spore-forming spoilage organisms surviving pasteurization.
“Microbial spoilage issues occurring due to postprocessing contamination can largely be addressed with improved cleaning and sanitation of equipment that contacts milk after the pasteurization stage, particularly fillers and filler areas,” Dr. Wiedmann advises.
Gram-positive psychrotolerant endospore-forming bacteria (simply stated as spore formers) represent a more challenging problem in terms of microbial spoilage, Dr. Wiedmann says. “These organisms can survive many types of pasteurization heat treatments, and then they can germinate and grow during subsequent refrigerated storage,” he relates.
Dr. Wiedmann supervised research published in 2018 that showed refrigeration at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit had a dramatic effect on lowering the mean concentration of psychrotolerant spore-formers in simulated half-gallons. “Specifically, our what-if simulations of lowering the refrigeration temperature from 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit to 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit indicated that only 9 percent of half-gallons of milk would be spoiled (greater than 20,000 cfu/mL) by 21 days when stored at to 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with the initial 66 percent of half-gallons spoiled by 21 days when stored at 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit,” he relates. “This translates to an extension of average shelf life (time to reach greater than 20,000 cfu/mL) by nine days by lowering the storage temperature from 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit to 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If a milk plant is well run and if there is no post-pasteurization contamination, the high temperature/short time (161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds) shelf life can be expected to be 24 to 30 to 35 days if milk is refrigerated at less than 39 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit,” Dr. Wiedmann points out.
DNA fingerprinting through whole-genome sequencing is now helping scientists to better understand and decrease spoilage organisms in milk, Dr. Wiedmann says. That’s a good thing, he says, because pictures of spoiled food, including milk, are often posted on social media. “Pictures of off colors and spoilage issues can be damaging to the food industry,” he emphasizes, mentioning his related collaborative research published in 2019 that used whole-genome sequencing of nine Pseudomonas spp. bacteria isolates to determine the cause of blue and gray pigments in cheese and milk, respectively.