What Is National Milk Day?

We all love celebrating the holidays, from Thanksgiving and its smorgasbord of food and Valentine's Day with all the sweet chocolates, to the more irreverent holidays like National Coffee Day and National Bacon Day. But, who comes up with some of these weirder food holidays, anyway? That thought may cross your mind when you hear that today, January 11, is National Milk Day. 

The Georgia Department of Agriculture alerted followers to the holiday with a Tweet, noting that, apparently, National Milk Day commemorates the historic day in 1878 when the dairy product was delivered in sterilized glass bottles for the first time. As it turns out, the second half of the 1800s was actually a big time of innovation in the milk industry. Pasteurization was invented in 1863 by Louis Pasteur, and it made milk safer to drink (via Merlo Farming Group). The next step in safely packaging milk was sterilized bottles, which came later in the same century, though milk delivery actually started a lot earlier.

Why the history of milk delivery should be celebrated

In the 1700s, most settlers in the United States raised their own cows to provide a source of milk. But, as society became more industrialized, people started to need it from other sources, like neighbors who had farms. In Vermont, home deliveries of the dairy product started in 1785, but it looked different than you might imagine (via Drinking Milk In Glass Bottles). Back then, a farmer would come to your house with a metal bucket of the white stuff, and they would fill up containers you had on hand. It was better than no milk at all, but from a modern standpoint, it's easy to see that there's some food safety risk involved with carrying a bucket of unrefrigerated milk door-to-door and pouring it into containers that used to hold who knows what.

That's why pasteurization and sterilization were such important dairy industry developments in the mid-to-late 19th century. Pasteurization kills off harmful bacteria, making it safer to drink milk and extending its shelf life, while sterilized bottles are helpful because they won't introduce any new bacteria or pathogens into the drink. That's why we have good cause to celebrate National Milk Day on January 11 every year. It's a celebration of the sea change in how milk was stored and delivered, and though today we might get ours in plastic or paper cartons (or vintage glass bottles), dairy lovers around the country should appreciate and celebrate the innovations that got us to where we are today.