Dairy Products – Milk

Got milk?  Butter?  Cheese?  In the refrigerator, right?  Dairy products are a great source of essential amino acids, vitamin D, and calcium, but in their usual forms found in the refrigerator case of your local supermarkets are perishable commodities.   Fortunately, there are a number of dairy products that lend themselves to food storage.

Dry Milks

Dry, powdered milk is available in nearly as many varieties as the fresh fluid product.  Most can be found on the shelves of your local supermarket while a few may have to come from rather more specialized suppliers.  Skillfully and knowledgeably used they can vastly improve the quality of your food storage program.

NONFAT (skim):   This is pasteurized skim milk reduced to a powdered concentrate and is found in two forms –  regular and instant. They are both made from the same type of milk, but the instant variety has been given further processing to make it more easily soluble in water than regular dry milk.  Both types have essentially the same nutrient composition.  The regular variety is more compact, requires less storage space than the instantized variety, usually costs somewhat less, but is a little more difficult to reconstitute.  Instant dry milk is commonly available in nearly any grocery store.  The regular type generally has to be sought out from baking and restaurant suppliers or storage food dealers.  There is a retail brand by the name of “Milkman” that has a bit of fat content that makes it similar to 1% milk.  The fat content means it should be stored like whole milk, described below.

It takes 3.2 oz or about 3 tablespoons of instant nonfat dry milk added to 32 oz of water to make 1 quart of milk you can drink or cook with like fresh milk. Combining the dry milk with water at least several hours before you plan to use it gives it time to dissolve fully and to develop a fresher flavor. Shaking the fluid milk vigorously will incorporate air and will also help to improve flavor.  Add the powder to baked goods, gravies, smoothies, hot cereals, casseroles and meat loaf as a nutrition booster. It can also be used to make yogurt, cheese and most any cultured dairy product that does not require a high fat content.  Several of the ways that we use dry milk powder is in making grits, oatmeal, and our favorite whole wheat bread.  A few tablespoons of dry milk greatly improves the amino acid composition of any grain product.

FLAVORED NONFAT:  This may be found packaged in a variety of forms from a low calorie diet drink (artificially sweetened) to the other end of the scale, as cocoa mix or malted milk. The key ingredient is the dry milk so buy and store these products accordingly.

WHOLE MILK: This is whole dry milk with all of its fat content (roughly 28% milkfat) and therefore has a shorter shelf life than nonfat. Other than that, it may be reconstituted and used in exactly the same way as nonfat dry milk.  Dry whole milk can sometimes be found in the Hispanic foods area of grocery stores (Nido and Klim by Nestlé are the two brands I know), natural or health food stores, and some storage food suppliers carry it as well as institutional and restaurant foods businesses.  It can also sometimes be found where camping and outback supplies are sold.  Because of the high fat content this form of dry milk really needs to be either vacuum sealed or packaged with oxygen absorbers in gas impermeable containers such as canning jars, Mylar bags, etc.  Rotate and use dry whole milk within two years, less if not packaged for long-term storage.

BUTTERMILK: Dry buttermilk is for use in recipes calling for buttermilk.  It can be reconstituted into liquid buttermilk, but it’s not much like the fresh liquid product and is best used in baked goods.  Since it has a slightly higher fat content than nonfat dry milk, it generally does not keep as long.  If properly packaged it should keep for several years.

SOUR CREAM:  Made from cultured sweet cream like the fresh product then dried and processed into a powder.  Like the real thing it has a high milk-fat content (25-28%) and should be stored like whole milk using vacuum sealing and/or oxygen absorbers and kept in a cool place.  Mixed with the proper amount of cold water it can be reconstituted into a rich, thick product much like fresh sour cream and can be used in a similar manner or just used as a powder to add a tangy richness to many foods.  Properly stored in oxygen free packaging and kept in a cool environment it is possible to achieve about a three year shelf life.

MILK SUBSTITUTES:  There are a number of products on the market that purport to take the place of cow or goats milk.  They range from soy “milk”, rice or other grain “milks”, and beverages based on milk components such as whey.  If there is not a substantial fat content they may all be stored as you would nonfat dry milk.  Those products with a significant fat content (above 1% by weight) should be stored as you would whole dry milk.  Do keep in mind that nearly all of these products DO NOT have the same nutritional composition as either nonfat or whole milk.  In storage food programs dairy products serve as important sources of high quality complete proteins, calcium, vitamin D and possibly vitamin A.  If the milk substitute you’re considering does not you’ll need to find another adequate source of these important nutrients.


(a) – Be sure the dry milk you are buying has been fortified with vitamins A and D.  All of the whole and nonfat dry milks I’ve seen come fortified with these two vitamins.  The dry buttermilk does not come this way, at least the SACO brand does not.  The flavored dry milks vary by manufacturer.

(b) – There should be no artificial colors or flavors.  I believe it is illegal to add preservatives to any dry milk sold in the U.S. so a claim of “no preservatives” on the label is of no consequence.  Other nations may be different, however.

(c) – “Extra Grade” on the label indicates the manufacturer has held to higher processing and quality standards and the milk is somewhat lower in fat, moisture and bacterial content, is more soluble, and has fewer scorched particles.

There are still some manufacturers of dry milk that sell ordinary Grade A product, but they are becoming fewer.  Every brand of instant powdered milk in my local grocery store is the Extra Grade, even the generic store brand.  This, too, may vary outside of the States.

(d) – If you’ll be buying your milk in bulk from businesses such as restaurant and institutional foods suppliers be sure to specify “low-temperature spray process” dry milk.  The high-temperature process dry milks will not give you a very desirable product unless you intend to use it solely for baking.

(e) – Try to buy your dried milk in containers of a size that makes sense for the level of consumption in the household.  Once it is opened, powdered milk has a short shelf life before undesirable changes in flavor and nutrient content occurs.  If you buy large packages and do not use much at one time, consider breaking it down and repackaging into smaller containers at the time of purchase.  I vacuum seal mine in glass canning jars.

(f) – As with any storage food you buy, try to deal only with reputable dealers.  It is particularly important to do this with dry milk because of its short shelf life and sensitivity to storage conditions.  Check expiration dates, then date and rotate packages.


Dry milk products are highly sensitive to environmental conditions, particularly temperature and moisture.  Their vitamins A and D are also photosensitive and break down rapidly if exposed to light.

The area where your dry milk is stored should be kept as cool as possible.  Air-conditioning or even refrigeration can greatly extend the nutrient shelf life.

If the storage container is transparent or translucent then it should be put into a second container opaque to light or stored in a dark room.

Dry milk will absorb moisture and odors from the air so storage containers should be impervious to both air and moisture.  The drier it can be kept, the better it will keep which makes the use of desiccants is an excellent idea.  Oxygen also speeds decomposition so vacuum sealing or oxygen absorbers will decrease the available oxygen.  Because of its fine powdery texture gas flushing with nitrogen or carbon dioxide generally yields poor results.

If the dry milk you purchased was not packaged for long term storage then it should be repackaged right away.

I purchase the instant variety of dry skim, whole milk, and sometimes buttermilk powder at my local grocery and repack it at home.   The method I now use is to pour the powder into clean, dry canning jars then vacuum seal them with my Tilia Foodsaver using the jar adapter then storing in the ubiquitous cool, dark place.  They must be guarded against breakage, but they offer the advantage of not holding odors, thus allowing for reuse after cleaning.  Since the glass is transparent they must be protected against light.

Clean, sound plastic one and two liter soda bottles can also be used, but probably should be used just once since the plastic is somewhat permeable and will hold odors.

If you have access to a can sealer, #10 cans make wonderful storage containers for dry milk, particularly if used in conjunction with O2 absorbers.

Please see Section III Specific Equipment Questions for information concerning the proper use of containers, desiccants, compressed gasses, dry ice and oxygen absorbers.


From:   SacoFoods@aol.com  (Amy Thompson)
To:       Dunross@dkeep.com  (Alan Hagan)
Subj:     SACO Mix’nDrink Instant Pure Skim Milk
Date:     May 9, 1996

Dear Mr. Hagan:

Thank you for your e-mail today and for your interest in SACO Mix’nDrink Pure Skim Milk.

Our Mix’n Drink will keep its nutrition value for up to about two years if kept cool and dry, and the only vitamins that actually decrease over time are the vitamins A and D.  These are not shelf-stable vitamins and are sensitive to heat and light.  A good rule of thumb to follow is that the vitamins A and D will dissipate at a rate of about 20% every year if stored properly.  The less heat and moisture the milk is exposed to, the better the vitamins will keep.  A freezer could extend the shelf life, as long as the powder does not get moisture in it.  If you had to put a time limit on the Mix’nDrink, for rotation purposes, I would date it at two years after the date of purchase.

After opening a package of dry milk, transfer the powder to a tightly covered glass or metal container (dry milk can pick up odors from plastic containers) and keep it in the refrigerator. Unsealed nonfat dry milk keeps for a few months; dry whole milk for a few weeks.


From:  SacoFoods@aol.com  (Amy Thompson)
To:      Dunross@dkeep.com  (Alan Hagan)
Subj:    SACO Mix’nDrink Instant Pure Skim Milk
Date:    May 21, 1996

Dear Mr. Hagan:

Since vitamins A and D are heat and light sensitive, I would say that your 1 1/2 year shelf life is very reasonable.  If you are trying to determine when the nutritional value has been affected more than 40%, as you previously indicated, you should be pretty safe with that time element, as long as it is not exposed to extreme heat.

[Eds note: We were discussing the higher average temperatures found in Florida and other hot climates and the effect that it would have on their dry milk’s nutrient content]

Canned Fluid Milks & Creams

Preserved liquid milk comes in a number of forms, none of which are very similar to each other.  The most common are as follows:

CANNED MILKS:  These are commonly called UHT milks (Ultra High Temperature) for the packaging technique used to preserve them. They come in the same varieties as fresh liquid milks:  Whole, 2%, 1% and skim.  I’ve even found whipping cream in UHT packaging (Grand Chef – Parmalat), though this may be offered only in the commercial and restaurant trade.  In the U.S. they all have vitamin D added.  The lesser fat content milks do not keep as long as whole milk and their use by dates are correspondingly shorter term.  This milk is packaged in aseptic laminated paper cartons.  It has the same composition as fresh milk of the same type, and can be stored at room temperature because of the special pasteurizing process used.  The milk has a boiled flavor, but less so than evaporated milk.  The dates are usually for approximately six months.  The milk is still usable past its date, but the flavor soon begins to go stale and the cream separates.

With a six-month shelf life this type of canned milk naturally requires a much faster rotation cycle than other types.  Several companies sell flavored milks (chocolate, etc.) in this packaging, usually in the smaller single-serving sizes.  UHT milk makes excellent yogurt, losing the boiled flavor.

EVAPORATED MILK:  Made from fresh, unpasteurized milk using a vacuum-heating process that removes 60% of the water, the concentrate is heated, homogenized, and in the States, vitamin D is added.  It is then sealed in cans and heated again to sterilize the contents.  Some brands may have other nutrients and/or chemical stabilizers added so read can labels closely.  A mixture of one part water and one part evaporated milk will have about the same nutritional value as an equal amount of fresh milk.  It does not taste like fresh milk but many do not find the flavor to be disagreeable.  Both whole and skim milk varieties are available with the higher fat content type having the best storage life.  The typical recommended storage time is six months.  There is generally no date or use by code on evaporated milk.

Some grocers along with health food stores carry canned, evaporated goat’s milk, in a similar concentration.

SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK:  A less processed product than evaporated milk.  It starts with pasteurized milk combined with a sugar solution.  The water is then extracted until the mixture is less than half its original weight.  It is not heated because the high sugar content prevents spoilage.  It’s very rich as well:  8 oz contains 980 calories.  Obviously with a greatly reduced water content and a high sugar level it won’t taste like fresh milk but it does have many uses in cooking.  Some use condensed milk to cream their coffee.  This type too is available in whole and skim varieties.

A fairly new entry into the sweetened condensed milk field is Dulce de Leche  a popular dessert item in Latin America.  It’s basically sweetened condensed milk that has been heated to the point that the sugar begins to brown which produces a rich tasting caramel dessert.  In the past you had to make it yourself, but now it can be purchased ready made in the can.  I have seen it in the canned/dry milk areas or the Hispanic/ethnic foods areas of many grocery stores here in Florida.

Although it is often hard to find, the condensed milk can label should have a stamped date code which indicates the date by which it should be consumed.  Condensed milk may thicken and darken as it ages, but it is still edible.

CANNED CREAM:   So far as I have found here in the U.S. only the Nestlé company produces canned creams, both being imports.   One is “Media Crema” produced in Mexico with a pull-top can and the other is “Table Cream” produced in Australia in a standard (as in use an opener) can.   There is a slight difference in preservatives and thickeners, but basically both are a shelf stable light cream which can be used in any way that you would use fresh light cream.   I haven’t yet determined a shelf-life for these products, but it seems to be in excess of two years in any decent storage environment.  Like the Dulce de Leche above I found them either in the dry/canned milk areas or the Hispanic/ethnic areas of my local grocery stores.  Would be worth looking or asking for in your local markets.