Permeate – everything you need to know about milk standardisation

Source: Dairy Australia

Milk is a highly nutritious, safe and natural food. Consumers today can choose from a wide array of different products including no fat, low fat or calcium enriched milk.

Whole milk is made up of milk fat, protein, milk sugar (lactose), water, vitamins and minerals (including calcium). It is a highly nutritious and quality product, naturally containing over 10 essential nutrients for good health and wellbeing.

The taste of milk generally depends on the levels of fat and protein in particular products.

From the farm to your glass

One process that some manufacturers use to produce a variety of dairy products is ultra-filtration. This process involves putting the whole milk through a very fine sieve which separates various components of milk – fat, protein, lactose, vitamins and minerals.

Permeate is the collective term for the milk-sugar (lactose), vitamins and minerals components of milk and is a valuable part of fresh milk. The addition of milk permeate to milk is one way of standardising the protein and fat content to a constant value throughout the year. Most countries of the world have standards that allow the fat and protein of milk to be standardised.

Because milk is a natural food that comes straight from the cow, its composition can vary by farm and by breed. Regional and seasonal factors also contribute to differences in milk composition such as the fat and protein levels.

This means the composition of cow’s milk will vary on a daily basis. Processors review the composition of milk when it is delivered to them and standardise the components in milk to ensure consumers know they will receive the same quality product every time they purchase milk.

Standardising fresh milk

Most dairy manufacturers standardise the fat and protein levels of the milk collected to meet consumers’ expectations of a consistent product all year round. Using permeate, a collection of natural milk components separated by ultra-filtration, is one way to standardise milk. Some other ways include adding/removing fat and/or protein.

Government regulations ensure that milk and dairy products conform to food standards for quality, consistency and food safety. The composition of milk is governed by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Food Standards Code (the Code). These standards are consistent with international standards – milk consumed in nearly all developed countries will have very similar standards.

The Code allows manufacturers to add or withdraw milk components to standardise the composition of milk sourced from dairy farms, as required, to produce nutritionally consistent and safe products. Under the Code, the standard for packaged whole milk requires that it contain at least 32 g/kg (3.2%) of fat and 30 g/kg (3.0%) of protein.

By and large, consumers want to know that every time they purchase fresh milk it will have a consistent composition and taste. Standardising milk gives consumers this consistency.

Common questions about milk and permeate...

Does permeate affect the nutritional quality of my milk?
There is nothing in fresh milk that is not milk. No matter what product you choose, you can be assured it is a high quality and nutritious product containing all the 10 essential nutrients that milk naturally provides.

Why isn’t it labelled?
Permeate is simply a collective/technical term for the lactose, vitamin and mineral components that have been extracted from milk using ultrafiltration – so it is not adding any components that are not already in milk. This is why it is not labelled
Permeate is not necessarily used year round for standardisation and labels would need to be regularly changed to reflect this.

Does permeate increase the lactose content of milk?
The lactose level does not change from the stated value on the label. The whole point of standardisation is to keep this level from changing.

Is it a by-product of cheese?
No – permeate is a collective term for the lactose, water, vitamins and minerals components of milk produced by a separation process called ultra filtration. It is not a by-product of cheese.

Milk collected from dairy farms is used in a wide range of healthy and nutritious dairy products. The composition of these varies depending on the product. For example, rich cheeses such as camembert need higher fat milk. Processors check the fat level of milk being collected and then add additional fat to ensure the milk is of the right composition for making the specific cheese.

Processors obtain the extra fat by taking cream out of some milk and adding it to the milk to be used for cheese making. The components left from the milk with the cream removed are then available to be used in other dairy products. The lactose, vitamins and mineral components may be used for standardising drinking milk. This is an excellent way of ensuring all the valuable components of a dairy farmer’s milk can be used.
In cheese-making, the standardisation process happens before the cheese is made – not after the cheese-making process.

Is permeate a waste product?
Certainly not – Permeate is a valuable component of milk containing lactose, vitamins and minerals. Through innovation, the dairy industry has been able to use this valuable component to standardise milk composition and create a range of innovative dairy products

Does all milk contain permeate?
Use of permeate in fresh milk varies from company to company and depending on the time of year and the composition of the particular milk. We encourage consumers to contact the manufacturer of their favourite brand to ask this.

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Permeate fact sheet April 2012.pdf355.33 KB