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Hygiene for 40 Milk and Milk Beverages was Satisfactory but 3 Key Nutrient Contents Vastly Vary Read Labels Carefully to Make Smart Choices

  • 2021.07.14

Known for its nutritional values, milk is a daily source of calcium and protein for many people. The Consumer Council tested 40 samples of milk and milk beverages and found the hygiene levels to be satisfactory, while also meeting the requirements of nutritional claims, such as “high calcium”, “low fat” and “reduced fat”. However, the Council reminds consumers that the samples contained vastly varying contents of the 3 key nutrients, including protein, calcium and fat. In particular, the calcium content of “high calcium” products could vary by up to onefold.

40 samples of milk and milk beverages were covered in the test, including 26 treated with ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) and 14 pasteurised samples, with retail prices ranging from $6.9 to $67.9. Based on the unit price per 100ml, the average price of pasteurised samples ($3.5) was around 30% higher than that of the UHT processed samples ($2.7), but the test results revealed little difference between the nutritional values of the pasteurised and UHT processed samples, indicating that price does not always reflect product quality. Test items included veterinary drugs, preservatives, microbiological and nutrient contents. The labelling information of the samples was also reviewed.

Milk is generally perceived as being rich in calcium and protein. According to the test results, apart from 2 milk beverage samples which only contained 2.1g and 2.5g of protein per 100ml sample, the other 38 samples had protein contents ranging from 3g to 4.5g and can be regarded as a “source of protein” (containing no less than 3g protein per 100ml liquid food sample). Based on the average protein content of all samples (3.4g per 100ml), consuming 235ml of the milk would provide a protein intake of around 8g, only amounting to 12.3% and 14.5% of the recommended daily protein intake for adult males and adult females (65g and 55g) respectively. As such, consumers, especially the health-conscious or vegetarians, should not rely on milk as the sole source of protein, but should maintain a healthy, balanced and diverse diet.

Calcium is a key component of bones and teeth. Amongst the 40 samples, despite the fact that 30% (13 samples) reached “high calcium” level (containing not less than 120mg calcium per 100ml liquid food sample), the calcium content varied as much as onefold, ranging from 121mg to 239mg per 100ml. Therefore, consumers should also check the nutrition label when purchasing “high calcium” products. The remaining 27 samples had calcium contents ranging from 99.4mg to 119mg per 100ml and can be regarded as a “source of calcium” (containing no less than 60mg calcium per 100ml liquid food sample).

Upon comparing all samples, the average calcium content (178mg) of the high calcium milk beverage category was over 50% higher than that of samples in other categories (including skimmed milk, whole milk and milk beverage categories) (116mg, 113mg and 113mg respectively). Amongst these, 7 samples of high calcium milk beverages cited the addition of calcium phosphate, milk calcium or minerals in the ingredient labels, resulting in a higher calcium content than other samples.

Referencing the recommendation by the Chinese Nutrition Society and taking the sample with the highest calcium content (239mg calcium per 100ml) as an example, consuming 1 portion (225ml) will provide a calcium intake of 538mg, accounting for 67% of the daily recommended nutrient intake (800mg) for adults. On the other hand, consumption of 1 portion (236ml) of the sample with the lowest calcium content would provide a calcium intake of 235mg, equivalent to 29% of the recommended daily intake for adults. The calcium intake from the highest and lowest calcium samples showed a considerable difference of 1.3 times.

According to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, milk shall contain not less than 3.25% of milk fat per 100ml, while skimmed milk shall contain not more than 0.3% of milk fat. All samples met the relevant requirements for milk fat content, with the highest one containing 4.3g of total fat, while all skimmed milk samples were not found with fat. Besides, 2 Japanese milk samples were labelled with claims of “Specially Select 3.6” and “Specially Select 3.7” respectively, which in fact represented the percentage of fat in the milk. However, the 2 samples were found to have total fat contents of 4.0g and 4.2g per 100ml sample respectively, which were higher than the average fat content (3.7g per 100ml) of the whole milk category by 8.1% and 13.5%. Milk with a higher fat content is richer in taste, yet consumers looking to have a lower fat intake should be mindful of this when choosing.

Besides, the average fat content of “low fat” milk beverage samples was 1.1g, while that of “reduced fat” milk beverage samples was 2.1g. “Reduced fat” is a nutrient comparative claim and the total fat content between the compared milk beverage samples should have a minimum difference of 25%. Although “reduced fat” and “low fat” seemingly differ by only one word, the total fat content of “reduced fat” samples was around onefold higher than that of “low fat” milk beverages. Consumer should pay heed when purchasing such beverages.

Inspection of the samples’ nutrition labels revealed that 1 sample showed nutritional claims of “contains protein” on its packaging but was found to contain only 2.1g of protein per 100ml, failing to meet the requirements for “source of protein” (3g protein per 100ml), while its detected amount was 30% less than claimed on the packaging, over the tolerance limit. 1 sample showed nutritional claims of both “high calcium” and “source of calcium” on its packaging, which may easily confuse consumers. The Council urges manufacturers to promptly revise the product labelling information. Furthermore, the calcium content of 1 sample failed to meet the requirements of “high calcium”. The aforementioned samples were referred to the Centre for Food Safety for follow-up.

As raw milk from dairy cows contains a large number of bacteria and pathogens, pathogens in milk is generally killed by heat treatment. The “Milk Regulation” lays out that after pasteurisation, milk or milk beverages should have a total bacterial count of less than 30,000 per millilitre. The test only found 1 sample of pasteurised milk to contain 20 CFU of bacteria. All pasteurised samples complied with the standard and showed a satisfactory overall level of hygiene.

When purchasing and consuming milk and milk beverages, consumers should pay heed to the following:

  • Before purchase, carefully check that the packaging is intact and look for signs of leakage. Read the product description, ingredients list, nutrition labels and expiry date on the packaging, and make sure the product has not expired;
  • Adults and senior citizens could select low fat or skimmed milk and milk beverage products with a high calcium content and observe whether the product is high-calcium milk or milk beverage. Patients with chronic illnesses or people with special dietary needs should consult a doctor or nutritionist before consumption;
  • Be mindful of the appropriate storage method. Pasteurised milk and milk beverages should be stored at 4°C or below, while unopened UHT sterilised products could be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight;
  • Milk and milk beverages should be consumed as soon as possible after opening. Unconsumed products should be refrigerated according to the labelled instructions;
  • Those with a sensitive digestive system could warm the milk using a hot water bath before consuming. Warmed milk should be consumed immediately and never rechilled to avoid bacterial growth;
  • Some paper packaging is printed with a forest logo, which is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, representing that the paper used in the packaging came from forests that are certified as being responsibly managed, in support of the sustainable development of forests.

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