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Is Food Grade Plastic Safe for Raw Milk?

No. I’m not even going to bury the lead on this one. Let’s talk about why food-grade plastic is not safe for handling or storing raw milk and what you should use instead.

I’ve noticed on various Facebook groups and heck even on YouTube, people using food-grade plastic buckets for handling raw milk. Every time I see this I either audibly or internally go, “Noooooooooo!” There are several reasons why you should be using only stainless steel or glass for handling and storing your raw milk, NEVER food grade plastic. Let’s dive in.

What is food grade plastic?

The basic idea is the plastic was created with rigorous cleanliness standards and materials that are safe to come into contact with food for human consumption. There are several different type of food-grade plastic. If you are a recycler you are probably familiar with some of the numbers listed on the bottoms of plastics, denoting what kind of plastic it is.

Just because it is food grade does not mean it is BPA free, or free from other materials/compounds you might not want touching things you eat.

Why You Should NOT Use Food Grade Plastic for Raw Milk

Scratches and Nicks

Food grade plastic can very easily get scratches nicks, or even chunks out of it. Hauling this down to your barn and back up to your house puts it at risk for damage. These scratches are nearly impossible to clean, which makes excellent places for bacteria to grow.

Hard to Clean

All milk has a certain amount of milk fats or milk solids in it. This is the rich, buttery stuff in your milk that will attach to surfaces.

Milk fats can more easily adhere to plastic than things like stainless steel or glass.

If you’ve ever made a buttery thing in your food processor and tried to get it completely clean by hand, you know the battle I’m talking about here.

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Can Absorb Flavors

Even though it is solid, flavors and scents can still get through plastic containers which do have a certain amount of breathability. For example, we foolishly put straight oatmeal into five-gallon food grade buckets for storage. No mylar bags or anything.

I did some reading and learned we really should use mylar so I started transferring our emergency food storage into bags.

The oats had 100% gotten rancid. They smelled and tasted like basement.

Your milk will spoil more quickly and can develop off-flavors if collected and stored in plastic.

Why Stainless Steel is Best for Raw Milk

There is a reason that every single restaurant kitchen or food industry surface is made from stainless steel. Not to mention every pipeline and bulk tank in every dairy barn or milk house you’ve ever seen.

Stainless Steel Does not Chip, Crack, or Break Easily

This metal is much sturdier than plastic as it is of course a solid metal.

Stainless steel is 10% chromium which creates a protective covering over the metal when exposed to air. The really cool thing is even if the steel gets scratched, the chromium reforms itself over the scratch!

Corrosion Resistant

Because of that chromium, it also is resistant to corrosion. It won’t rust easily or break down and leach into your milk.

Easy to Clean

The surface of stainless steel is smooth and non-absorbant which means you can easily clean and sanitize it.

cleaning a milk bucket rough and tumble farmhouse

Glass For Handling Raw Milk

While I can’t imagine having a milk bucket made of glass, some people do use quart jars and milk directly into them with goats.

This is perfectly fine so long as the glass has been santized. Glass does not heal the same way stainless does, but it is harder to scratch than plastic, especially the inside of say a quart jar.

However, glass can definitely absorb and hold onto flavors so be aware as you store and collect milk.

Always use glass that was intended for food use. I’ve seen gallon-sized pickle jars used (thoroughly cleaned!) but my favorite is just half-gallon and quart-sized mason jars.

If you do milk into a mason jar, be sure you strain the milk into a new clean jar before storing.

Can I use Plastic Lids for Raw Milk?

Yes, but personally I recommend using metal. Again I find the plastic jar lids are harder to clean and the milk definitely sours faster when using plastic lids.

I even bought a nice mason jar lid that has a handle and a pour spout, as my husband always struggles pouring from a jar. The lid has a gasket, but I still found that milk started to sour after a few days. Normally our milk can go up to two weeks before it starts to sour if stored in glass jars with the two-piece metal lids.

Is Plastic Safe in Cheesemaking?

Yes.

All the plastic molds used in cheesemaking are (or should be) food grade plastic. If you have dipped your toes into cheesemaking you know that it is a highly sanitized process. All materials are cleaned well between uses.

Your cheesemaking supplies aren’t going to be sitting down on your barn floor, meaning it won’t be exposed to all sorts of various poop bacteria.

Finally, the milk you are making into cheese has already been introduced to millions of bacteria when you put in whatever cultures you are using. Cheese can of course still get funky with the wrong bacteria, but if you are being clean and careful it should be just fine. Check out some simple cheese recipes here.

What About Rubber Tubes on Milk Machines?

If you machine milk there is a small amount of rubber used on the milk machine claw and the tubes connecting the claw to your milk pail or milk line.

These are made from food-safe, highly durable material. They are designed specifically for milk use. Here are some other reasons why you don’t need to worry about that little bit of rubber:

  • Milk travels through it quickly.
  • It goes through a three-part sanitizing system every time it is used.
  • The rubber is replaced regularly before it begins to break down.
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