We all prefer to be seen in the best light but, in the case of milk, the very lighting that attracts us to the dairy aisle could be causing problems. At least that’s what the headlines are saying.

The LIGHT that Shines on Milk Could Be Spoiling It!

Bottles, boxes, cartons and bags. There are growing varieties of ways to bring your milk home from the grocery store.  As dairy producers, we would like to think that after milk leaves the farm, it will arrive at the table in the same healthy condition that it left in.  On the contrary, some recent news reports are suggesting that packaging methods may not have a positive effect.  Are we to understand that some packaging causes milk to go bad? Wrong! Well then, is the problem all about light getting to the milk through the packaging? Wrong again! In actual fact, when it comes to milk going off, the contributing factor is the light itself. E

The Latest Bad Milk Buzz Concerns LED Bulbs.

You know of course that LED bulbs are the ones that we all thought were a good thing to support and switch to. Now headlines are suggesting that LED lights ruin milk by making it deteriorate faster. “LED-Exposure causes milk to degrade more quickly.”   (newfoodmagazine.com   June 10, 2016).

Are the Headlines True? Do LED Lights Make Milk Go Bad?

To shed more light on this topic, we have to seek out a new study from Cornell (news.cornell.edu) entitled “Consumers sour on milk exposed to LED light” which states:

 “Cornell researchers in the Department of Food Science found exposure to light-emitting diode (LED) sources for even a few hours degrades the perceived quality of milk more so than the microbial content that naturally accumulates over time. Their study determined milk remained at high-quality for two weeks when shielded from LED exposure, and consumers overwhelmingly preferred the older, shielded milk over fresh milk stored in a typical container that had been exposed to LED light for as little as four hours.”

Attention: Please re-read the previous paragraph and take special note of the words ‘perceived’ and ‘preferred.’

The Cornell Study Confirms Things We Need to Remember

“Exposure of fluid milk to LED light negatively affects consumer perception and alters underlying sensory properties.” Furthermore, it confirms that we have recognized for decades that light affects the flavor of milk.

 “Light-induced flavors in dairy products are in no way an unexpected or novel observation (Browne, 1899). This study differed from earlier work in the use of more modern LED light illumination and the incorporation of a large consumer study with descriptive sensory measures. Light-activated flavors have been shown to produce robust negative consumer response (White and Bulthaus, 1982)…. Producing milk in packaging protected from sunlight has been discussed for almost 100 years.”

We Are Being Told That It’s the Color of the Light That Matters.

“Although the wavelength of LED lights is of lower total power than fluorescent lighting, they emit strongly in the blue spectrum (Heffernan et al., 2007; Narukawa et al., 2010). This isn’t far from the 450nm absorption maximum of riboflavin.  Riboflavin has been found to be the most destructive (by Choe et al. 2005). Thus it may be more effective in degrading riboflavin and releasing energy to the milk.”

Two Things Speed up the LED Reaction: 1. The Color 2. The Brightness

So what?  Well, the data is showing that even a relatively short exposure to LED light (4 hours) will readily induce light-oxidized flavor, thus reducing consumer liking (Hoskin and Dimick 1979.

So next time that “Why Does the Milk Taste Bad?”  conversation comes up, here are four tasteful points that will prove especially enlightening.

“Bad taste.  Bad milk.  That’s NOT the truth. “

  1. The milk is not going bad.

“The whole problem starts with trying to be too bright.”

  1. Light is having an effect on consumer perceptions and taste buds.

“Blue Light May Be COOL Cool, but it is NOT the RIGHT light.”

  1. The real culprit is blue light which is causing the deterioration. LEDs can be mixed to any color temperature, so those making the selection need to turn to “warm white” instead of “cool blue.”

“When good Milk leaves a bad taste, put the BLAME where it belongs.”

  1. Marketing studies proclaim that lighting done right will increase retail sales. Now managers need to combine this art of attraction with results that also prove that milk may need special consideration to prevent the taste going off.

“It’s All in the Eye of the Beholder”

If retail stores remember that the customer is always right, they will accept the “perceived” reality that taste is being affected by the lights and make sure that they don’t try to make milk sales by providing too much bright blue light. If they ignore this, public perception will turn to the reality of deteriorating milk.  I tend to agree with the viewpoint that sums up the situation this way, “This research points the way to home milk delivery, in brown or blue glass bottles, as is used for other beverages whose flavor we care about.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the end of the day – or when you’re in the grocery line — it seems that milk producers and consumers are destined to keep getting caught between LEDs and a dark place. Is it too bright?  Or too blue?  Milk’s journey from stable to table has many twists and turns.  The one thing that we want is for it to arrive healthy, fresh and delicious. We can all drink to that!!

 

 

 

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