The untold story of the milk that we drink

Published: August 24, 2010

HTST treatment kills almost all bad bacteria present, but the nutritional value and taste stay intact.

When packaged milk was first introduced in Pakistan in 1981, the idea wasn’t welcome. In general, people thought packaged milk was not as healthy as loose fresh milk. An aggressive campaign was needed to change people’s minds. How many of you remember the documentary aired on national television showing how free from germs and bacteria Tetra Pak milk is?

Today, I can say the campaigns succeeded. Lots of people have converted from traditional, loose, fresh milk provided by dairy farms. The packaged milk industry has evolved and there are many players in the industry.

But while the industry matured, did any of these companies evolve ethically as well?

What is packaged milk in Pakistan?

All leading packaged milk brands in Pakistan are UHT (Ultra Heat Treatment) treated. UHT involves heating milk at a temperature of 135 degrees Celsius (which is above boiling point) for a few seconds and then cooling it down.

What happens when milk is heated at such a high temperature? It loses its nutritional value, taste and smell. True, micro-bacteria are killed in this process, but we should also be aware of the fact that not all bacteria are bad for us and this process also kills the good ones. Once going through the UHT process, the milk we buy has an artificial smell and taste added to it. What I don’t know is whether additional nutrients are added to the milk or not.  The process also involves homogenization, which ensures that milk and water are not separated (so curdling doesn’t happen). In a nutshell, the milk provided to us is nothing but treated liquid sold as milk.

The milk is then packed between five to six layers of cardboard, polythene and aluminum sheets. This is done to preserve the milk for a longer period of time. The shelf life of milk in Tetra Pak is six to nine months and can be kept at room temperature without curdling. It doesn’t curdle or get contaminated because it is kept away from light and bacteria.

However, this is not healthy. Tetra Pak packing has been found to release chemicals in to milk such as urea. And of course it is also simply not  fresh.

Do we any alternative?

No, sadly, we do not have any alternative. This does not mean we start consuming loose milk. I am aware of the fact it contains bacteria. Aside from the fact that hygienic methods of milking are not practiced in Pakistan, the containers for loose milk are not clean and we are can never be sure how much milk we use is actually water.

So what’s the solution?

The solution lies with consumer groups and health organisations providing us with UHT milk. Across the world  the preferred method of pasteurization is HTST ( High Temperature Short Time). This process involves heating milk to 75 degree Celsius for 15 to 20 seconds and then cooling it down. This kills almost all bad bacteria while nutritional value and taste stay intact. This milk can be preserved for up to a week or two in a refrigerator.

However, in Pakistan the weather allows the milk to be kept for only 4 to 6 days in a refrigerator. As far as I know UHT milk is not used anywhere else in the world, not even in India. Amul and Mother India both provide consumers with HTST milk.

Unfortunately, not a single company in Pakistan employs this method of pasteurization for milk. But why? If  they charge consumers for healthy milk why don’t they offer it?

Firstly because HTST milk has less shelf life. As it requires refrigeration, storage conditions are limited. Why should these companies spend extra money when people are so easily fooled with the name of UHT and have no awareness of HTST milk?


Afia Jamal

A business school graduate who enjoys analysing marketing trends.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • khaleeq

    its trueRecommend

  • Tony Khan

    Let blame UHT milk for the floods, Sialkot lynching, Data Darbar attacks, Ahmadis Masjid massacre and what else…..?Recommend

  • Asad

    An important issuERecommend

  • Sahreen

    nice article Recommend

  • Amer

    Nice artible. I never thought of it this way and always thought that UHT was the best method. I will research this more. Keep it up!Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Thank God I am not milk lover…Recommend

  • Burhan fawad

    well miss Afia..there are lots of things you ve missed…i ve personally visited milk packaging companies and its because my of my relatives are in this ll tell you the missing things in my next comment caz leaving for aftariRecommend

  • afia jamal

    Thanks all for appreciation !
    and burhan i know very well about the lobbying of tetra pack behind it but i feel not all stuff can be published on a public blog!Recommend

  • Balal Naeem

    Sad. Everything in this country needs to be restructured. Thanks for sharing.Recommend

  • Think therefore

    She is right…HTST is actually healthier…much much more that UHTRecommend

  • Umair Hassan

    Its a good article withe the exception of spelling & grammar mistakes :)Recommend

  • Nabeel Amin

    “Unfortunately, not a single company in Pakistan employs this method of pasteurization for milk.”
    I think you are misinformed. Haven’t you heard of Millac Pasteurized Milk? It is sold in only Millac outlets and It expires in 3-4 days (kept in their refrigeration storage) and also Millac is not UHT at 135 Degrees..It is heated at 75 Degrees.Recommend

  • Ghausia

    See this is why I just don’t drink milk anymore.Recommend

  • afia jamal

    NABEEL Same goes for you that not everything is worth publishing . Do you really think i should have mentioned millac in the article? I am not here running a campaign for millac!Recommend

  • Arsalaan Haleem

    A very good, informative article.Recommend

  • Abdul Basit

    appears to be a Lame piece, without empirical evidence…Recommend

  • Abdul Basit

    plz share the source of your information, without which it is yet another invalid product of the blogosphereRecommend

  • ASQ

    As far i know is that UHT is still very common worldwide especially in countries with hot climate even in europe like spain,portugal,france,germany etc its still more popular then HTST!!!!Recommend

  • Nabeel Siddiqui

    Thanks to you Afia we are now aware of this.. Next time im offered milk, i’ll have a better excuse.
    No seriously it was worth knowing.. if only more people could be made aware of this. Nice one.Recommend

  • parvez

    Not convincing and research on the subject appears wishy washy.
    One blip was Nabeel Amin’s pointing out about Millac being in the market.Recommend

  • Rizwan Liaqat

    I think Prema milk is very good alternative available in the market, it is fresh, not UHT and expires in 3-4 days. It is also widely available (you will probably find it in your local Gourmet). Recommend

  • Riaz

    Nice effort Afia.Recommend

  • Sara

    Very good piece. Thank you afia for adding to our knowledge.Recommend

  • Anum Ahsan

    Thought provoking blog. Express tribune should come up with more like this.Recommend

  • Bilal Tahir

    a very nice article and very well written. And thanks for giving us the awareness about the UHT Milk i heard this thing on TV once that UHT milk contains Urea and now i know how it is contaminated with UREA.
    And Yes Millac is providing us with HTST thats y it has its own stores for Milk. I m seriously thinking of converting to millac now.
    and @umair who commented about spelling and grammatical mistakes. I just want to say its editors duty to check them :-)Recommend

  • Raza

    Various chemicals are added to milk in Pakistan – shocking

  • Iftikhar

    This is news! whats it doing in the Blog Section!Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    Nice and informative article.

    @Tony Khan and the like, please stay away from blogs and confine your taste and self to NEWS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS AND POLITICAL ANALYSIS, PLEASE!!!Recommend

  • Madiha Mustafa

    quite i didnt knew it before.. thnx :))Recommend

  • Talha

    thought provoking article.. good job on that front! however it got me researching on the web and now i’m even more confused.. there appears to be no black-and-white answer as to whether UHT or HTST is vastly superior to the other.. there are even differences in American and European preferred standards! Recommend

  • afia jamal

    Thanks everyone for the comments and feedback. I specially appreciate Raza for sharing the video!Recommend

  • qasim

    Seems like an ad-campaign for tetra pak milk. I must confess in light of the article that the ramzan ad of Olpers is pretty cool…keep it up! :-)Recommend

  • hakeem

    BURHAN FAWAD how long your iftari takes i am waiting for more from you
    btw article is a good trendRecommend

  • Gul Sher Khan

    u r right dearRecommend

  • Fly Hi

    Just Few Corrections
    1) milk in Tetra Pak Packaging has a shelf life of 3 months not 6-9 months
    2) there are 6 layers of packaging (4 Polymer, 1 Aluminium and 1 Paper) to save milk from environmental damages
    3) Homoginisation is a process of not mixing milk and water but Fats and Solid Non Fats so that you get same nutritional value in every drop
    4) Packaging cannot release urea as it does not have any chemical elements that can form urea.
    5) Pakistan is a developing state… Carton packaging for milk drinking is used all over the world and they have all the consumer protection council and laboratories to ban this product.

    what the article suggest…. The milk packaging companies should be banned from the world and the management should be hanged…

    So in such false statements… I rest my caseRecommend

  • Ali

    Dear fly hi you look like you are working for tetra pack. This article is a great piece I see its scrutinizing uht milk not tetra pak. Moreover she has said it right they were so persuasive in documentary that its most hygienic milk although they are also fraud. I dont find you convincing . I also researched homogenization and found it way to keep milk from curdling so that milk is preserved. Secondly the shelf life maybe 3 months in pakistan due to climate. . Thirdly I have lived in uae myself and found people there looking for date specially while purchasing milk because they want freshness. They discard milk even 2 days old so I seriously think whether 3 months or 6 it doesnt matter.

    Keep up the good work miss afia. Looking forward to more.Recommend

  • Ali

    I dont remember the source but I have heard it before as well that tetra pak releases urea. Mr bilal also says to have heard it on tv.Recommend

  • Anamta

    I heard from someone that tetrapak milk is not good . Thank you now i know the reason behind it too.Recommend

  • J

    Bitter truth. Milk one of the best gifts of nature doesnt even reach us in its pure form. Thank you Afia for writing up on this important issue.Recommend

  • gul

    Great article.Recommend

  • Sonia khan

    very important issue raised by the blogger. Recommend

  • Afia Jamal

    I am really grateful to all of you for your valued feedback and appreciation!!Recommend

  • Bilal Tahir

    @Ali it was some old actor of Pakistan in a morning show on ARY but i dont exactly rememberRecommend

  • Ateeqa

    In response to your question about evolving ethically i want to say we are an ethically deprived nation.

    Awaiting your article uncovering stories of spices and oil.Recommend

  • Ubi Ali

    i think before ethics of the companies,its the responsibility of the state to ensure that no company can launch any product unless the certain standard are met,countries of the world have their own standards and they have setup special authorities which not only ensure that standards are met but they also conduct their own research own behalf of the consumers,i dont know here is Pakistan any authority scrutinize these products before they actually produce it on such a large scale.
    On Dawn News,i watched it myself few months back that a lawyer has sued the “tetra milk” companies in the court,the lawyer claimed that he has tested the packaging milk in the private Lab and found the report that there are some elements found in the milk which are not good for the health of the consumers,and i could not believe on my ears that when the news caster said that these companies produce 40 liters of milk from 1 liter of actual milk.if thats true i really feel sorry my self and for my innocent country men.God Bless Pakistan.Recommend

  • Fly Hi

    As a nation we believe what TV says, and later we curse them. Actors are paid.. Tomorrow some milk producer can pay them and they will speak good about it. Why I know this is because I got it arranged for one company as their media agency and the whole electronic media was talking good about Packed milk. Suddenly they contacted me to laision with milk companies to give them business through ads otherwise they will initiate negative campaigns.
    Why do you think one fine day everyone started talking about Milk quality in Pakistan. and about the lawyers…. They do not have better things to do than to get the milk checked at Laboratories. Last word in this blog from me…



  • Bilal K

    When packaged its all just some white liquid & when sold loose its white contaminated water… I guess we are a lactose intolerant nationRecommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Don’t quit your day job for investigative journalism. You will make a lousy one.

    If you would have just type UHT in Google, there comes a link from Wikipedia that shows the number of countries still using UHT.

    Second, you did not pay much attention in your creative writing class, I guess. You named brands like Amul and Mother India in your article out of which Amul is available in Pakistan through agents. However, you cannot name Millac as it would spoil the taste of your article because you would be associated with it. So, writing India brands are just right regardless of the matter that you are still endorsing something. Next time if you get in a fix, you may want to write something like

    “Only one Pakistani company is practicing the process of HTST for milk pasteurization though it has limited reach.”

    Solve this for me as well. The milk in HTST is heated at 72 degree Celsius for 15 seconds. The UHT process is done for a fraction of a second at 135 degree Celsuis. HTST is exposed to the heat longer than UHT. Don’t you think that it will be as nutrition less as UHT. If you are that interested in debunking stuff, I would have preferred that you do an article with sound reason and sources. Not just blog it out when you nothing better to do.Recommend

  • Ali

    Fly hi if only these multinationals had some responsibility. A man died during reality show of clearmen but unilever’s pr was strong enough to avoid any action against them. Walls is made out of vegetable oils and is not real icecream. Kfc chicken is breeded in unhealthy ways. Should we stay quiet mr fly because they are multinationals . No am sorry. We have to take step otherwise it might cost us lives.

    I have heard about everyday being not right milk also. Can anyone share his knowledge on that?Recommend

  • Ateeqa

    I see strong supporters of uht and tetra pak here . For them, she is not the only one raising this issue. Its a very popular issue all over media. I guess all of them are wrong and all the milk scholars are here. SmirksRecommend

  • aalia

    I am a graduate in applied chemistry and I honestly hold your stance there. This is for all those attacking this article. Refer someone credible for confirmation.Recommend

  • Mehtab Khattak

    Miss Afia, your article is a good attempt but still there is much room for improvement in that. firstly try to give maximum real time facts and figures,and if the figures are in percentages it adds more weight to the blog, for this I will recommend you should read articles of Dr.farrukh Saleem which is published in ‘The News’ every sunday.Secondly Pay little more attention on Grammar and punctuations but thats not a big deal it can be corrected by reading more and more. After all a nice effort.Recommend

  • afia jamal

    I truly respect your criticism Mr Saad. I deliberately didn’t mention millac but i have mentioned earlier in my article that all the leading companies in Pakistan employ UHT . Please read it again. As for HTST being nutrition less also. I guess you need to do some more research on your own just don’t stick it to Wikipedia and other sites which even 5th graders can make their access to.
    Thank you all the for your kind wordsRecommend

  • Syed Khalid Kamal

    I recently moved from the US and have used UHT milk in a limited sort of way. I find the viscosity and texture of the UHT milk very different from unprocessed milk. In all 50 states and Canada it is a legislative requirement to add back vitamins A and d lost in the homogenization and pesturization process. I love milk and like to drink it straight from the fridge. Besides the taste and nuturational questions I find the cost exorbitant.
    Here is some thing else to consider: I was buying one US gallon (3.85 litres) of milk for $2.49. I am paying $2.80 for the same quantity in Pakistan. (Rs. 62/litres x 3.85/Rs. 85/dollar) Considering the cost of labour and production and general level wages in Pakistan this is a huge rip-off.

    Some one in our family who is a doctor has done research on UHT milk, I will try to get a copy of it for posting on the net. There is a tremendous need in Pakistan for consumer advocacy, better consumer laws and their enforcement. Recommend

  • afia jamal

    Thank you aalia for the support and Khalid mail me the copy if you get your hands on it !Recommend

  • Samreen A.Khan

    nice article Ms.Afia!Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Lets compare that in your article you said:

    Unfortunately, not a single company in Pakistan employs this method of pasteurization for milk. But why? If they charge consumers for healthy milk why don’t they offer it?

    To which Mr. Nabeel Amin replied:

    I think you are misinformed. Haven’t you heard of Millac Pasteurized Milk? It is sold in only Millac outlets and It expires in 3-4 days (kept in their refrigeration storage) and also Millac is not UHT at 135 Degrees..It is heated at 75 Degrees.

    To which you replied:

    NABEEL Same goes for you that not everything is worth publishing . Do you really think i should have mentioned millac in the article? I am not here running a campaign for millac!

    and then I replied:

    Second, you did not pay much attention in your creative writing class, I guess. You named brands like Amul and Mother India in your article out of which Amul is available in Pakistan through agents. However, you cannot name Millac as it would spoil the taste of your article because you would be associated with it… Next time if you get in a fix, you may want to write something like
    “Only one Pakistani company is practicing the process of HTST for milk pasteurization though it has limited reach.”

    To which you replied:

    all the leading companies in Pakistan employ UHT . Please read it again.

    Now if you had done your proper Market research, you would have known that Millac sells HTST in Karachi, well it has been here for 2 years now. Even in 1990s, there was a company who tried selling HTST in Karachi, cannot remember the name but it was associated with Coca Cola. Now if you think that Millac is small town, then you have erred big time. Millac has been there for ages. Its powder milk business is second to Nido.

    First, I made a open-ended question which could have been answered with links and resources. Fine, I admit I did not fully research my part, but its not me who is blogging and I did end up on links like this one. To your information, the following research is Pakistan-based.
    Heating in Pasteurization Process Reduce Milk Iodine Concentration

    Thanks for discussing it out.Recommend

  • afia jamal

    What is packaged milk in Pakistan?
    All leading packaged milk brands in Pakistan are UHT (Ultra Heat Treatment) treated.
    Dude we are not taking some war , get back to me on my email address I ll provide you with my research material on this topic so that you stop blaming my research! And secondly I accept I am just a beginner at this blogging thing presently so my writing skills might not have been so impressive at it as yet . But don’t you think this is not a type of article to be fancied by words but content Recommend

  • Rehaana

    Wow, Afia, I’ve seldom seen a blogger/journalist get so personally involved with the readers. It’s great. But please, don’t forget that being a journalist carries some responsibility. A large part of that responsibility is to appeal to your readers’ sensibilities while giving them some useful information that can help them form an opinion or at least start looking at things differently. I started reading your article with great interest as I’ve been evaluating different kinds of milk to give my 3 year old. But as I read it, I felt that you did not make a good case for your very strong opening statement/argument. I say this as someone with 20+ years of market research experience. It felt like you started with a lot of points to make and then ran out of time to make them in an effective way. You did miss a lot of alternatives to UHT. Lahore is flooded with farm-fresh milk, Prema, Gourmet, and others are offering alternatives to UHT. You cannot use this position of responsibility to write half-baked pieces that people will read and dismiss, or worse, form incomplete and incorrect opinions. In this case, it just looked silly that you weren’t aware of UHT alternatives. In other cases, it may not be easy to spot that you haven’t done your research and people may actually believe you. What then? Good luck with your writing. I hope you do a more thorough job next time.Recommend

  • Syed Khalid Kamal

    To the Moderator: The one study of UHT milk that I referred to above was completed months ago. The institute that commissioned it has not released it for publication. There is some kind of struggle between the vested interests and the institute/author. When it is released, if ever I shall happily obtain a copy for posting on the net. Recommend

  • afia jamal

    Thanks rehana I’ll certainly consider your much valued suggestion in next writings!Recommend

  • Pakistani

    piece of advise is.. Always see both sides of the picture.. You might be right from one angle and the other one may give you a parasdigm shift..Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Afia, Millac is two varieties, packaged and powered. Why don’t do you put your research on Scribd? Don’t make it available to download. Rest assure, I got your point clearly. However, you stress upon HTST which I believe would be a better option for all of us. For now, the world has UHT.

    Its good that you have debated it out. Though I am not a big fan of your writing, but you should be praised that you answered my doubts and initiated a good debate. Hope to see a new analysis soon and then we can debate it out.

    Pardon me if I was a bit hard.Recommend

  • Abdul Basit

    Initially while going through the comments and your replies I was thinking of not reading your blogs anymore because of the callous attitude towards the correction of mistakes. However your last comment changes things.
    I second Saad and Rehaana!

    Looking forward to the next one now. I found this one relatively better than your previous write up. Recommend

  • Afia Jamal

    Okay I will try putting it on scribd. Thank you Basit and Saad , I ll be looking forward to your valued feedback it will keep me going and improving . I really need it.Recommend

  • Afia Jamal

    Thanks to you as well Pakistani! I really look up to suggestions because I know there is lot to learn still.Recommend

  • Nousheen Aziz

    Dear Afia, I read your article with interest. Milk, without any doubt, is an integral part of our daily diet. As a professional nutritionist, I am generally in favour of fresh foods specially fruits and veggies. As far as milk is concerned, I prefer using and recommending packaged milk, for the simple reason that it is convenient and more nutritious. Additionally, it is not exposed to moisture, bacteria, air and ultraviolet light, all of which can cause quality deterioration and compromise food safety. This is because of the technology that is used to pack milk i.e. Ultra High Treatment or Ultra High Temperature and 6-layered packaging. You can Google these terms to understand them better because I think this is the basis of the misunderstanding. Just because milk is heated at a high temperature for a very short time does not mean it loses its nutrition. On the contrary, there are studies, both local and international, which prove that packaged milk is more nutritious than ‘loose’ milk which is generally full of adulterants and chemicals.

    As you have mentioned in your article, HTST Pasteurization is indeed a good method of milk preservation. However, aseptic processing and packaging technology is also popular worldwide. Especially in hot countries like ours, UHT milk is always a preferred choice. I am writing all this in the capacity of someone who has experience of closely studying packaged milk, having worked on projects with companies like Tetra Pak in the past. If you are interested in knowing more, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will be very happy to share my experience and learning. Recommend

  • Ebby

    Nice article, very informative

    I don’t have much knowledge of blogging ethics but wanted to ask can’t you mention the name of the brand you think better than the local well-known brands. I know this won’t give you any monetary benefits as you are not here to promote brands but in my opinion if you are creating awareness then why not suggest the brand/s as well. Recommend

  • Amit

    TetraPak milk is useless and no match for pure milk. It is not adulteration proof or anything. How can something be good when kept for 20-30 or 40 days..there is nothing like pure milk. Same for tetrapak juices, they are not pure – its all mixed with flavours and extra sugar. Go pure..Recommend

  • ikram

    thnxss for this info ….. but can u giv links onn other stiess orr places that sayss it it baadRecommend

  • mansoor Ahmed

    Half of the detail is correct mention above, regarding tetra and loose milk is unhealthy is correct.
    But the are some companies i know are providing fresh healthy and safe milk which is Pasteurized milk, anyone like to know the detail here is the number that can be confirmed.

  • mansoor Ahmed

    Dear Nosheen Aziz, i like you to search more about UHT milk first of all search that mineral, vitamins and other nutrition in the milk all have boiling point or evaporating point below 135 C.
    so when you heat them at this high temperature most of the nutrition were lost in the process, on the other hand the process of pasteurization is 72 degree centigrade, by this low temp. all the nutrition remain in the milk. only Harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria and other harmful bacterias killed and milk remain fresh and healthy, for further more 70 % milk consumption is of Pasteurized in developed and developing countries of the world. Recommend

  • Kay

    call me a critic or whatever you like but these blogs on tribune and dawn are getting pointless and are very poor in quality
    they like the tv channels are devoid of actual substance and raise issues without actually delving into its depths and then end most of the times quite abruptly…
    this one for instance seems to be written by someone possibly from karachi who has not come across AA milk and Prema milk apart from a few other pasturised products available in punjab…and yes i understand tht punjab does not equate to pakistan but its wrong on the writers part to claim that UHT and gawalay wala doodh are the only available options…

    the biggest problem i see in the lack of coverage of pasturised milk is the fact that the masses of the country dont have the purchasing power to afford it since it pasturised milk would require constant refrigeration in shops which is not possible due to the lack of electricity plus even if there was electricity there would still be a sizeable amt of expired stock due to short shelf life which the shopkeepers will have to recover by increasing the price of it hence making it out of the average consumers reach…also u need to account for the transportation costs in refrigerated trucks etc….
    so basically its a whole chain dependant on the chargeable price for the product which makes fresh milk or uht (mass produced) milk the only available option to us…Recommend

  • Muhammad Junaid

    Well Afia what an interesting and real story you have written, a big fact!

    Keep it up.Recommend

  • Qamar

    i dont like any tetra pack milk. i only like fresh milk from “bhanaa”
    these tetra pack milk is full germ and cause so many diseases

  • Sahar

    “Unfortunately, not a single company in Pakistan employs this method of pasteurization for milk.”

    Can anyone write well researched articles???? really can you not name a single pasteurized milk company in Pakistan….maybe you should use google more often or maybe READ.


    just a few big names.Recommend