What’s the Deal with the Milk?

Source: Q-Roo Paul

A few weeks ago, I was in a grocery store in Tulum, Mexico when I overheard two Americans talking next to one of the coolers containing dairy products.

“I can’t believe they’re out of milk,” one of them said in an annoyed voice.

“I don’t even see a place for it,” his friend added.

Being the helpful person that I am, I told them the milk is commonly sold unrefrigerated in boxes and then I directed them to the correct aisle. I also added that it is good for several months unless it is opened.

Based on their expressions of surprise and disbelief, you would have thought that I had just told them to go milk a cow out back. The funny thing was that after a brief discussion, the two chose NOT to try the boxed milk.

Americans in particular seem to have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of milk stored at room temperature. This topic comes up so often that I decided to take a few minutes to dedicate a post to it.

Even American expats who live full or part time in Mexico talk about milk on a regular basis. For many of them it has become a quest to find refrigerated milk with a short shelf life and when they do – they are eager to share the location with their friends.

The Science Behind It

The milk inside the container is the same, the difference is in the pasteurization technique and the packaging.

Boxed Milk

This is also called shelf safe milk or UHT milk. UHT stands for Ultra High Temperature.

UHT milk is heated to between 275-284 degrees Fahrenheit for only three seconds and is packaged in containers that protect the product from light and air.

Shelf life: Up to 6 months without refrigeration or preservatives (according to Tetra Pak). Once opened, it is recommended to use the milk within 14 days.

Traditional Pasteurized Milk

During the pasteurization process, the milk is only heated to between 161-167 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 seconds before it is cooled. The milk has to be stored cool to avoid it spoiling too quickly.

Shelf life: 7-15 days if the milk is stored cold.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Before moving to Mexico, I rarely ever had a conversation about milk. The few times that I did, it usually involved my wife asking me to smell it to see if it was still good.  Those were certainly simpler times.

Here in Mexico, the topic of milk comes up quite frequently. In fact, you would think that some people were milk connoisseurs by the way they talk about the subtle taste differences between the two pasteurization methods.

Personally, I don’t notice any difference in the taste. However, the only time that I drink milk is when it’s poured over cereal — so I’m probably not the best judge.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul

Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years and retired at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He moved to Mexico with his wife six days later to enjoy a laid-back, Caribbean lifestyle on a tight budget.

In 2016, Paul started a blog to share information with other people who may be thinking of making the move to Mexico. The blog, Two Expats Living in Mexico (qroo.us), has been viewed over a million times and Paul’s articles appear in periodicals across Mexico.

32 Comments on "What’s the Deal with the Milk?"

  1. I lived in Mexico when I was 17 and my aunt bought the milk from the corner store and had to boil it for us to drink. But you know what happens when you boil the milk the fat gets think. Then when we drank it there were clogs in the milk that would make me gag. Then later my aunt bought powdered milk. Not much better but no clogs. The carton one is definitely much better. But I live in USA and only buy refrigerated kind. But when I move to Mexico to retire, I’ll see what’s on the shelf and use that. It’s a matter of adjusting and/or doing without.
    I will say Paul, your research and writing are always to the point. Thank you.

  2. Awesome post. So true. Americans are so ignorant about such basic things….they just asume everything is and should be as what they’re used to even when they move to a foreign country. Thank you!

    • A bit harsh on American ignorance. I have traveled all over the world, and have found that most cultures are ignorant of other cultures. Many know some basic things about Americans because the US has such a huge impact on so many nations around the world. As a Canadian, we are more familiar with American culture, but here too, ignorance flourishes.
      Regarding the milk, I lived many years in the Arctic, and even as a young boy, we had carton milk due to the distance and time it took for fresh dairy products to reach us. I hated it…it was disgusting. I had only known cold milk, and cold fresh farm milk. The idea of shelf milk was repugnant, however, as I traveled, I got accustomed to the reality of shelf milk…but it took awhile. Lack of familiarity does not necessarily mean one is being pretentious, or a food snob. My sister in law is Japanese and her first time in Canada, we served her oatmeal for breakfast….she found it the most disgusting thing she ever had…. it’s simply a cultural and unfamiliarity thing.

  3. Another one of your great, informative articles. I can only drink soy and always only buy the shelf safe packages. No real difference in taste to “regular” milk. In Canada comes in regular, almond and vanilla flavours.

  4. Lala Entera is delicious – one of life’s simple pleasures.

  5. Karen Pelletier | December 16, 2016 at 10:47 am | Reply

    Back home in the Canadian Arctic UHT milk is a godsend, especially if you live in the bush.

  6. Wonderful article, Paul!! WE love your blogs and look forward to retire in Mexico as well.

  7. How easy is it to find Almond milk? Some of the resorts have it, others do not.

  8. “Those were certainly simpler times.” 🙂

    We don’t have trouble getting fresh milk in Loreto, B.C.S., which has a pretty good-sized ex-pat community. Specialty substitutes are also available at a gourmet shop.

  9. Loved this one!!! I retired in Rosarito beach Mexico and you are right about the milk issue Before I retired I was a flight attendant for 38 yrs and traveled extensively people don’t realize that most other countries have had Tetra Pak milk for ages!!! If this science did not exist most 3rd world countries would not have milk

  10. Many cultures that either do not have refrigeration readily available or are in remote location use the boxed milk. I am not a milk drinker and only use it for cooking so I find no difference in taste, I encourage people to read the carton labels. Some of the “whole” milks add vegetable fats to bring the fat content up to qualify as whole milk. Another dairy product that seems to baffle people is sour cream. Here it is “crema acidifada de vaca”. Just the other day while shopping at the local grocery store some people were complaining that they could not find sour cream. I pointed out the correct product and their response floored me. They firmly stated “The it should say sour cream!” Okay then, I guess an entire culture should adjust to what foreigners think it should be.

  11. Same thing with eggs- they are also not (or not very) refrigerated which is a little unnerving until you get used to it.

  12. Fresh eggs can last several weeks unrefrigerated as long as you don’t wash them. They are laid with a protective coating that keeps them fresh longer. Most eggs in the grocery store are already a few weeks old. To see if eggs are good, put them in a pan of water. Fresh eggs stay on the bottom, as they age, they start rising, ine end, then another. If they are floating on top, they are too old to use.

  13. When we left (mostly) the U.S. three years ago, I was buying organic foods whenever possible and was researching the benefits of unpasteurized milk. I had to just “let it go” when I saw the shopping choices in Mexico and recognized the limits of my Spanish and the differences in labeling. I would still prefer to buy organic (and do when available at Costco). I accept the boxes of milk as “it is what it is”–a blessing for many in the local population with limited refrigeration. I prefer them to the bags of milk sold in Uruguay and Argentina. I would not urge anyone with extreme health issues, like Chronic Lyme disease, who have to eat absolutely “clean” to come to Mexico. It is just too hard to determine the source and conditions of foods. It is hard enough in the U.S. where big business fights every effort to avoid real labeling and they have the politicians in their pockets. Bottom line–the food in Mexico is delicious and is as safe to eat as anywhere.

  14. Linda bissonnette | December 16, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Reply

    I love milk. And can taste a difference in refrigerated and box…will try other brands as someone told me there are some better than others. And indeed have had mild discussions! And eggs!

  15. William S. Kelley | December 16, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Reply

    Great article! We used UHT milk extensively when we lived in Europe. Another benefit is it takes up less fridge space. You can refrigerate the box you are using and leave the rest in the pantry.

  16. Steve Meinhardt | December 16, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Reply

    Paul,
    Milk, Don Poncho & Ice try it you will like milk another way.

  17. I used boxed milk while living in the Middle East for ten years. Once back in the USA it was hard to find. I don’t drink milk, just use it for cooking/baking so the boxed milk is my choice.

  18. Parmalat has been on US shelves for at least 10-15 years. We always kept a few in the pantry “just in case”, as no one wants to have to run to the store before the first cup of coffee. More recently, mini boxed milk (juice box size) has been sold for the intention of kids’ lunches. I personally would want it cold, but I don’t think most elementary kids would care. I think a lot of the retirees being 60ish plus years old haven’t noticed them in the grocery stores as they don’t pack kids’ lunches anymore 😉

  19. Ok we have been here several times before and this time for 3 months so far and here for another 6 if you want milk closes to home in the US or Canada try alpha 2000 light it’s the closest you find to home. We have tried many different kinds and this one is it for our tea or coffee or cereal this is the only one that comes close lol.

  20. Gayle from Calgary, Alberta | January 26, 2017 at 9:02 am | Reply

    Wow great “milk” stories! We will always go with the flow … except …. I am in withdrawal without my coffee cream at either 10% or 18% milk fat in my coffee in the morning. Any suggestions or work arounds? We did search the milk aisles for the highest milk fat but alas no luck so back to the warm leche!!! Started to get use to it actually but thought I would see if anyone had any ideas – thanks!

  21. JoAnn Jackson, RN BSN | April 11, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Reply

    Didn’t notice anyone mentioning that the refrigerated milk in Mexico has been pasteurized but is not homogenized. Because of this, milk does not last as long in the refrigerator as it does in the US

  22. Do they have lactose free milk in Mexico?

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