milk cartons

Where does your milk come from? Is it really local?

Have you ever wondered where your milk comes from?  Besides a cow, I mean.

I was fascinated to learn that most of the milk I buy, whether it’s a store brand or a brand name comes from the same place.  On a recent visit to the Dean’s Milk Processing plant in Huntley, Illinois, truckloads of milk arrived from farms all over Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.  The milk underwent a series of quality control tests both on and off the truck.  Then it was pasteurized, homogenized, bottled, labeled and distributed under a variety of labels — not all of which were Dean’s brand — although the quality was exactly the same.

So, does it make sense to pay more for a brand name?  What about taste?  Do different brands actually taste different?  Well, apparently milk can taste different, but that’s mostly because a cow’s eating habits may change throughout the year.  For instance, cow’s milk might taste one way in the summer when warm weather means more grazing on the pasture.  It might taste another way when cold weather keeps the cow inside its toasty warm barn eating dried grains.  Some people are more sensitive than others to these slight differences.  However, the quality of the milk is exactly the same.

But, if you’re still curious about exactly where your milk came from, (say you want to know which local farmer sold his milk to the plant) you can find out.   A handy little number called the Interstate Milk Shipper’s Code or IMS will tell you the exact farm your milk was delivered from.  Just look at a carton of milk and find a series of letters and numbers.

See those  numbers after the Plant Number?  Those make up the IMS code.  You can go to a website called “Where Is My Milk From?”  and enter the code into a search box.  Voila!  It tells you the actual farm that sold your milk to the processing plant.  In fact, all dairy products have an IMS code.  You can look up any of the dairy products in your fridge.

Why is this so cool?  Well, for one thing, it’s fascinating to note how many local farmers contribute to milk and dairy production.  It also helps the plant guarantee that milk products are free from things like antibiotics.  Farmers use a variety of methods to keep their animals healthy, many of which are described here.  The truth is that only sick cows are given antibiotics, and a sick cow is not allowed to contribute to the milk supply.  In fact, a cow’s milk must be antibiotic free for four days before being allowed into the milk supply.  A dairy would face serious penalties for not complying with this, and might even lose its license.  The Interstate Milk Shipper’s code is another way to guarantee the safety of our milk supply.

Originally posted on Little Lake County

Genevieve O'Keefe

Genevieve O'Keefe

About Genevieve

Growing up on the near north side of Chicago, I imagined farms as far-off mythical places of no relevance to me. Now I’ve come to realize that agriculture is a necessary part of our economic landscape. Two of my children are homeschoolers, which means lots of hands-on learning and field trips. Some of my favorites include wildlife restoration days at our local forest preserve and visiting Chicago museums.

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