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When it comes to raw milk, we’re all sticklers about squeaky clean glass milk bottles! Why? Because if you want your milk to last as long as possible, you need a super clean bottle. Any dirt or bacteria in there, and your milk will start to sour before you’ve finished the week.

So, if you want squeaky clean glass milk bottles, here’s how to make that happen!

Most farmers use the wide-mouth 1/2 gallon Mason jars.

When it comes to cleaning, they can’t be beat! Easy to clean in a dishwasher or by hand with a brush or sponge. My hands are little so I can get ’em in there and reach every surface.

The biggest challenge with any milk bottle is that they have to be COMPLETELY DRY before you cap them. Just a few drops of water, even a teensy tiny little bit of moisture in there and, after they’ve been capped for couple of days, it smells like a swamp when you open it. I discovered this the obvious way.

So here’s how to clean and dry milk bottles:

  1. Rinse emptied bottles immediately with cool-to-lukewarm water so as not to “set” the milk protein. Hot water will set that protein! My friend Christy calls this “milk glue” and it can be really hard to get off the inside of your bottles!
  2. Plan to wash two days before milk pick-up day so you have plenty of drying time.
  3. Wash in hot, soapy water, using a good bottle brush (if you can’t get your hand in there). Getting a long enough handle seems to be the trick! (See next section for brush suggestions.) One friend uses salt to clean for a little “grit” with the brush. I thought that was a great idea, especially if you have old milk in a bottle.
  4. Rinse well several times, then give a final rinse with hot water to speed drying. Drain upside-down TILTED on a rack, then cap. Drying straight upside-down does not allow the inside bottom to get dry. And it seriously needs two days.

NOTES ON DRYING: Make sure air can get back up into the bottle when set upside down to dry! Placing your bottle on a dishtowel flat on the counter will not allow the inside to dry completely: air needs to be able to get back up into the bottle to dry.

Nor will letting it sit right-side-UP on a counter… unless you have a few days drying time (and no humidity), there will always be a drop or two of water in the bottom. Just a drop or two of water in a capped bottle will bring on the swampy.

One friend rigged up a drying rack in her windowsill which accomplished sun drying/sanitizing at the same time.

Brushes for Cleaning Glass Milk Bottles

Finding decent, good-sized bottle brushes has been a challenge.  I love the OXO brushes. They are long enough and good quality!

Sanitizing Glass Milk Bottles: 4 Methods

To tell you the truth, I don’t sanitize anymore. I just wash and dry and am very comfortable with that. If you would like to sanitize, here are four methods. The only thing I would caution about is, if you use the H2O2 or Iodine (or vinegar as one person told me she was using), make sure you rinse thoroughly so that your milk is not tainted with residue! Not sure what harm that would do but it might cause an off taste.

  • HYDROGEN PEROXIDE: Food-grade H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) is perfect as a disinfectant because its by-product is plain water. (More on this in the next section.)
  • IODINE: I used to use this method. A couple of drops of iodine (Lugol’s solution which can be found on ebay here — this is NOT iodine tincture) in my final rinse water. If some remains in the bottle, it’s never bothered us. We supplement with Lugol’s so safe to ingest. Just might make the milk taste funny if there’s too much residue.
  • SUNLIGHT: Air dry in direct sunlight.
  • HEAT: Place drained jars in a warm (less than 150°F) but turned-off oven. Obviously don’t include the plastic lids. I have done this with our milk bottles that have the hard plastic handles, nothing melted!

Details on the H2O2 Sanitizing Method

  • Need funnel and approx. 2 oz HP for 4 bottles
  • Wash and rinse bottles. Then set still-wet bottles alongside lids/caps in the sink.
  • Pour an ounce (2 Tbsp or 1/8 Cup) of 3% HP into a bottle, then cap (which will also sanitize the cap) or cover it with your hand and shake for a minute to distribute the liquid.
  • Using the funnel, pour this slightly-used HP into the next container and set the first aside to drain. Repeat on all bottles.
  • When you have used HP on all your bottles, hold them up to the light. Any remaining organic material will show up as foamy white bubbles. Repeat the hand washing/HP rinse until no foam appears on contact with HP.
  • When all containers have been treated, rinse well to remove any traces of chemical stabilizers* from the HP. Dry as usual.
  • *Not all HP has stabilizers added to it. It should say on the bottle of HP if other ingredients have been added.
  • To deodorize a bottle that has had milk curdle in it, fill with a stronger solution of HP and filtered water and allow to soak overnight.
  • HP is preferred to bleach because it’s more environmentally friendly and many people believe it is good for their health. Plus, if you see any bubbling, you know you need a do-over!

Transportation Tips and the “Cold Chain”

“A fundamental tenet of handling fresh, unprocessed milk is to maintain what California Organic Pastures dairy farmer Mark McAfee calls the ‘cold chain’. This aspect of risk management begins with the immediate rapid cooling of milk after milking and continues through all the steps of dispensing, transport and storage. The ideal goal for home storage is to hold milk between 35°F and 38°F. There must be no break in the cold chain.”

  • This means that your milk cannot get above 38°F, even in your car on your drive home from pick-up in 90-degree summer heat. Keeping the COLD CHAIN consistent makes a big difference in fresh milk’s longevity and, obviously, taste.
  • Consider using something to cushion the jars inside the coolers, maybe a blanket or cardboard.
  • Freezer packs save you money in the long run — bagged ice is expensive! We use these freezer packs. Keep a bunch frozen and ready to go.
  • good quality cooler is essential for transport. Our Extreme cooler (bought at Kmart for $50, fits 4 gallons which is 8 half gallon Ball jars) keeps ice frozen for 3 days, so the milk is safe! I like that.
  • TIP: If you already have a cooler that is too big for the milk, get a soft-sided freezer bag, put the milk in that with ice, then in the cooler. My soft-sided freezer bag does not keep my milk cold enough for my long drive home in the summer! To clarify: I don’t need both, I use my large cooler. I’m making this suggestion in case you already have a large cooler. If you put 4 bottles in a cooler that holds eight, you are either going to be buying a LOT of extra ice and/or your bottles will move around and break.
  • TIP: If you fill your own jars at the farmer’s house, take your jars cold so the farmer’s cold milk goes into a cold jar!

How to Store Raw Milk at Home

  • Check temp of fridge; should be 35°F, that is perfect. Milk also decreases in quality if it is too cold. You don’t want ice crystals in your milk. And you don’t want your salad to freeze. Ours is 35 degrees and we have no troubles.
  • Store milk in the coldest part of the fridge possible.
  • Use the door shelf only for the bottle in current use.
  • May need to place ice packs next to milk in fridge if you are having spoiling problems, especially for milk that will be stored the longest.
  • If thawing meat or frozen leftovers, put them around your milk jars to help keep your milk super-cold.
  • Promptly return bottle(s) to fridge after pouring from them.

To Freeze Raw Milk (on purpose)

  • Use plastic (to prevent shattering) and leave 1 in. headroom.
  • Freeze as quickly as possible (the coldest part of your freezer) and shake periodically during freezing to keep cream and cold distributed evenly.
  • To use, thaw slowly at room temp until there is just a small chunk of ice in the milk.
  • Shake milk often during thawing to keep it cold throughout.
  • Fast thawing will result in curdling and/or separation of cream from milk.

Misc. Glass Milk Bottle Tips

  • Did you know that farm fresh milk dries almost clear, so it is not always apparent where it has not been removed? Me neither. You have to wash thoroughly and check in good light.
  • Containers that are properly washed and dried “keep” clean for several weeks once capped.
  • If you are washing half-gallon wide-mouth canning jars in the dishwasher, you might want to rinse afterwards to remove any dishwasher soap residue. Sally Fallon suggests using minimal detergent in the dishwasher and putting that soap only in the first wash cup (the pre-rinse cup) so the regular wash becomes a thorough rinse cycle.

What To Do With Leftover, Soured or Curdled Milk

Here’s the fascinating thing about raw milk: it NEVER goes bad. It just becomes another food. At least, it’s never gone bad for us and we’ve used it in food and cooking for us and our pets, never a single burp! That’s our experience. So how do we use it? Like this:

  • Here’s how to get four foods from 1 gallon of raw milk past its prime: part 1 is herepart 2 is here.
  • Your dogs, chickens, and pigs will love curdled milk: we mix it with their regular food, they eat it right up.
  • If you don’t want to separate it, simply shake the curds and whey back together and use in your bread making for a sourdough taste. Or in pancakes, muffins, whatever you are cooking that needs liquid. Think of it like buttermilk. It can be substituted in lots of basic recipes.

That’s what we know so far. All tips and suggestions welcome!