1920 Advice on How to Keep Milk Clean and Fresh

Source: Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. II (1920)

Other than putting the jug of milk in the refrigerator immediately after I get home from the supermarket, I don’t think much about how to keep the milk clean and fresh. A hundred years ago, people worried a lot more about maintaining milk quality. Here’s what it said in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

There are many very important things to know about milk, but nothing is more important than to know how to care for it in the home. Because it is such a perfect food, it is a very good place for germs to grow. 

Be sure to wash the bottle before pouring out any milk. Get into the habit of doing this. You do not know what kind of dirt may have come in contact with the bottle after the milk was put into it. 

If milk is left in the bottle replace the cap or, better, provide a clean one. A cup or glass may be inverted over the bottle. Do not pour the milk into another utensil unless necessary. If necessary, be sure that the container is absolutely clean. Milk very readily absorbs the odors and flavors of other food in the refrigerator, and this is another good reason for covering it.

Sometimes milk is not delivered in bottles but is dipped from a can and poured into pans or pails. Be sure that the pans are scalded and kept covered until the milk id delivered. Do not put milk tickets into them, or leave them uncovered on the doorstep. If milk is bought at the grocery store one should not walk through the streets with the pail uncoverered. 

As soon as the milk is delivered the bottle should be washed and put into the refrigerator. If allowed to stand in a warm room it sours very quickly. 

All milk containers should be rinsed with cold water as soon as empty. They should then be washed with clean, soapy water and rinsed with scalding water. In the summer time it is a good plan to boil the pans and pails with soda water for fifteen minutes.   

Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. II (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr 

[The book also contained directions for making a homemade cooler for those who did not have a refrigerator – but that is potentially another post, another day.]

23 thoughts on “1920 Advice on How to Keep Milk Clean and Fresh

  1. Oh my goodness, we take so much for granted now, don’t we? Although in this crazy virus time, we are more aware of cleanliness. And: would love to hear about that homemade cooler… I remember as a youngster, a small metal cooler from the “dairy man”; it sat on our porch and he would put our order in that cooler in the morning. Happy New Year to All!

  2. That made me think back to my time in England. They let their milk sit out and not refrigerated. Even as a student, I found that shocking. I just looked up why they do that and it is because they pasteurize their milk at a higher temperature which makes it last much longer. It never caught on here.

    1. I keep my eggs at room temperature. I have a friend who keeps hers in the fridge, washes each shell, and checks them for floating before cooking each time.

  3. Echoing Carolanne’s comment above… we take so very much for granted. Every now and then, I remember very vaguely the old wringer washer that my parents had when I was tiny. I can’t even imagine! Wishing you and yours a joyous and, above all, healthy 2021.

  4. We used to get our delivered until the late 70s by a local dairy and we had a metal box on the porch where we left our order and got refilled. It was always a good idea to put an ice pack inside since the deliveries were not always at the same time!

    1. My mother and her sister walked to their grandparents house once a week and brought milk home in an open pail. One of the great family stories is of the day they got into an argument over whose turn it was to carry the pail. They left it in the middle of the road, and were in a great deal of trouble when they arrived home without it.

  5. Wow, I had no idea how complicated milk storage or usage could be! I remember the milkman with glass bottles, but that’s about it. On the topic of milk storage for current day, I read yesterday that we shouldn’t keep it in the door of the fridge because it may not be as cold as the other areas. I had never heard that before!

  6. We had milk delivered in glass bottles when I was a kid. The cap on top was paper, and it was put into one of those metal boxes. It always was fine. Today, I have more trouble with milk from the grocery store. There are too many times that I bring it home already sour, despite date stamps that show it should be good for a couple of weeks. It’s problems with the distribution chain or store employees that don’t take enough care in shipping and storing it.

  7. My mother has stories… I guess I’m lucky to have never had to worry about the milk going bad because the milk was exposed to the air or to room temperatures! The only time I had a problem was when my son saw someone on TV drinking out of the carton and decided that was how it should be done. It went sour over night and he never took another swig from the carton!!!

  8. So interesting and a reminder of all the conveniences we take for granted. I remember my grandmother having milk delivered in the UK – the birds would peck at the silver foil lids to try and get at the cream on top.

  9. Brings back lots of memories of cleaning milk jugs. It is so important to keep your jugs clean and covered, onion flavored milk isn’t so tasty on cereal.😄 Dirty pans or jars also mess up your cheese if the milk had been in one, that bad bacteria is a real problem then… totally ruins a batch of cheese.

  10. I remember learning about milk storage in my 4-H days on the farm. They gave us CCCD as a way to remember how to take care of milk: Cold, Covered, Clean and Dark.
    We used to milk the cows on our farm, carry the pail into the house, strain it through a tea towel to remove straw and grit, and then drink it right down. No concerns about pasteurization then!

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