Milk Tests

Reporter: Damien Hansen

Last year 2.2 billion litres of milk was sold in Australia. Transported from dairy farms every morning to processing plants and onto supermarkets, ending up in your trolley and as our comprehensive scientific test reveal, the shelf life of your milk is not what it should be.

Microbiologist, Glen Pinna from Biotech Laboratories said, "You might be buying you know discounted milk but if you are throwing half of it away in two days time where's the value in that?"

"Milk is a daily staple. We feed it to our children and trust we are getting what we pay for but in many cases, it's a dairy lucky dip. What we've seen from these results really blatantly points out the failure is coming at the final outlet at the holding before refrigeration and at what temperature it is being refrigerated at", added Glenn.

Today Tonight tested 32 different products from four suburban supermarkets - Aldi, Coles, Woolworths and IGA , for listeria, psychotropic bacteria, which is common in milk and causes it to go off, and an overall bacteria count

Glen tested for bacteria that indicates failure in hygiene and a break in the cold chain between the farm and your fridge.

"The organisms that we went looking for are really the spoilage organisms. They're the organisms that we find when we go to milk that is one to two weeks over its expiry date. We looked for the pathogen, listeria monocytogenes and as we hoped and certainly got, we didn't find it in any of the samples", said Glenn

That's the only good news. Of the 32 samples, more than half were riddled with bacteria and failed to comply with advisory levels of the Food Standards Australia.

From Coles, their discounted full cream milk contained a psychotropic organism count of 340 - 34 times the acceptable level. From the same store, Dairy Farmers no fat skim milk was even worse. In excess of 1500 -150 times the recommended levels of bacteria.

Another strike, this time Dairy Farmers original milk. This had a psychotropic organism count greater than 1500. Again 150 times whit it should be. The plate count blew out to over 75,000, 50% more than safe food guidelines.

"There is no way you should get that sort of number in a product you're expecting the general public to actually consume if this milk didn't taste off immediately I would expect it o be off within one or two days", said Glen

Western Australian MP, Nola Merino said "The consumers have the right to know the milk they're buying is actually a fresh milk product."

Milk processors have admitted to adding permeate, a watery milk by-product to Home Brand and some branded milks to standardise levels of fat and protein, given taste consistency.

Nola has long campaigned permeate in milk is misleading and consumers have the right to know if they are drinking it.

"If that's the case and it is not the product that comes from the cow, basically treated to the consumer then that should be on the label", .said Nola.

The A2 full cream milk we sampled from Woolworths was permeate free but the psychotropic organism count was again 150 times what it should have been.

In the flavoured milk section, we found some of the most disturbing results.

Rush Ice chocolate was low on fat but extremely high on bacteria. A plate count of two million and forty times the acceptable level.

"Look if this doesn't taste off right now it certainly will within a couple of days and you are just going to through it away. When you are talking about flavoured milk it can be a lot harder to detect and you could be drinking spoiled milk and not realising it , said Glen

What's even harder to detect is just how the milk you're drinking is being stored before it ends up in your fridge.

Overall of the 32 products tested, 18 either had psychotropic organism counts above advisory levels or bacteria levels above code guidelines.

Woolworths, Coles and Dairy Australia all say their milk is produced to the highest standards and that psychotropic bacteria occurs naturally in milk.

Our concern is that we found levels 150 times above the guidelines which points to, at best, we are buying either old milk or milk un-hygienically processed and stored.

"If any party along the food chain with milk and dairy products actually does the wrong thing in storing or handling the product you can actually get a product that may have a food safety issue", says Glen.

"Everyone has to keep to the food standards - retailers, producers and manufacturers. Basically so that we can guarantee milk products will be fresh", said Julian Madden from the Food Safety Information Council of Australia.

Standards Australia says failure to meet those guidelines was an indication of a processing or hygiene procedure problems that need to be investigated, although adding it didn't pose a threat to public health and safety.

Our experts think otherwise.

"If the milk's off it's certainly not the manufacturer its your outlet change the outlet buy it from somewhere else' said Glen.