One of the more naturally perishable products in the grocery store is fresh milk. That perishability, along with ease of contamination, could turn milk into a vehicle to spread disease, such as tuberculosis.
In the United States, Gail Borden patented a method for making condensed milk in 1856. The tin can protected milk from airborne germs, and processing reduced the risk of food poisoning resulting from a lack of refrigeration.
Borden opened the first condensed milk plant and cannery in Wassaic, New York, in 1861.
Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk was credited with significantly lowering the infant mortality rate in North America.
But it didn’t taste like fresh milk.
Although most people in the United States lived in rural areas in the mid-1800s, those who lived in urban areas were unlikely to have a cow in the backyard! They bought their milk from vendors who poured or dipped the milk into whatever container the customer had in-hand at delivery. The first home milk deliveries began in Vermont in 1785.
On 08 April 1879, Echo Farms Dairy reportedly delivered milk from Litchfield, Connecticut to New York City customers in the first milk bottles.
Delivering milk in a glass bottle added expense, plus, glass breaks.
A New York “druggist,” Dr. Hervey D. Thatcher, “put the first Common-Sense milk bottle on the market.”
According to a local legend, Thatcher became interested in sanitary conditions in the milk trade when he “observ[ed] a little girl drop a soiled rag doll into an open ten gallon container of milk that a milkman was using to deliver milk door to door.”
By 1885, Thatcher was advertising his milk protector as “the ONLY PLAN KNOWN that secures to the consumer ABSOLUTELY PURE MILK in such manner that it can be kept sweet for several days, furnish a good coat of cream and is handy to use. . . . THE SEALED BOTTLES are easy for the patron to store as they can be kept in a refrigerator without imbibing its odor.”
Pasteurization, developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, would further minimize milk as a carrier of diseases.
Modern sanitary milk practices include both pasteurization and ultra-high heat (UHT) pasteurization. Some dairies still sell milk in (returnable) glass bottles but most milk in the United States is sold in a paper-based milk carton or a plastic jug.