20 August 2018

By Jean-Pierre Berlan, Director of Processing Solutions, U.S. and Canada

Establishing competitive differentiation in the dairy industry can be difficult, particularly because the top factors consumers consider when selecting a plain milk product are price and expiration date. For some brands, leveraging the right technology to enhance their refrigerated pasteurized milk products with an extended shelf life (ESL) can make a significant difference in capturing market share. And with a longer shelf life, a refrigerated milk product can safely stay in stock longer, thus providing retailers with certain efficiencies and cost-saving benefits. Different technologies are currently available to provide brands with greater competitive advantage.
Extending the Shelf Life of Milk
Traditionally, chilled milk is pasteurized to eliminate harmful bacteria and ensure the product is safe for consumption. While the product’s shelf life varies by country, some examples of typical shelf life for pasteurized milk are 10 to 15 days across Europe and about 21 days in the U.S. and Canada. Temperature control throughout distribution and retailing is a key factor in
shelf life.
Heat, Filter, or Spin
Today, there are three technologies to extend milk shelf life by days or weeks. These technologies are designed to improve product safety, quality and in many cases, availability.  
The most common and widely known technology used to extend shelf life is high heat treatment (also called ultra-pasteurization).
This solution uses extreme temperatures (up to 135 degrees Celsius/275 degrees Fahrenheit) to heat the product from 0.5 to 4 seconds. By applying intense heat, more microorganisms are eliminated and the shelf life can be extended. In the U.S., for example, the shelf life can be extended by 20 to 90 days if the product remains refrigerated.

High-heat treatment is the traditional way to extend shelf life, however the temperature can impact the product’s taste and nutritional makeup. Technologies such as direct UHT heating, makes it possible to achieve very high product quality thanks to the brevity of the heating treatment.

With microfiltration, the milk is first pasteurized at reg
ular temperature and then processed through a microfiltration system that reduces the microbiological load.
Because this technology best preserves the product’s flavor profile and nutritional integrity, it is often used with higher-end and value-add products.
Microfiltration is a relatively expensive technique, but the cost may be worth the tradeoff for some brands because it can extend the shelf life to 35 days in specific countries. For example, brands in the United Kingdom and Canada widely use microfiltration, finding great value despite the extra processing cost.

With bactofugation, the pasteurized product goes through a centrifuge, where the high-speed rotation generates the centrifugal force needed to separate some of the bacteria from the rest of the milk.
This is the most cost-effective technique and it extends the shelf life by three to eight days. Heat is not used in bactofugation, so the product’s taste and nutritional integrity is maintained.
While bactofugation and microfiltration have been used for years in some countries, the technologies are now being introduced in the U.S. 
Tech and Extended Shelf Life as a Competitive Advantage
As the competitive landscape becomes more intense, dairy brands will need to consider leveraging technology and innovation to ensure they remain relevant. Reaching more customers and reducing product turnover and returns can make a distinct impact on the bottom line. And as modern customers expect more from their products (and in many cases are willing to pay for premium items), leveraging innovation is necessary to meet the demand.
The new technologies that promote ESL can deliver that differentiation and provide dairy brands with long-lasting business results.

Learn more about Tetra Pak’s dairy processing and packaging expertise and please join us at the webinar “Extended Shelf Life: Adding value to pasteurized milk” on September 18th at 2 p.m. ET
Register here.
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