Dairy discovery: a new milky way

2nd February 2021 | Alison Turner

Queensland-based food technology company Naturo has developed a world-first fresh milk processing method known as Haelen, which creates milk that remains fresh and safe for human consumption for more than 60 days. The company is calling it the most significant innovation in the dairy industry since pasteurisation in 1864, and they could be right.

The innovative new tech, which took six years to develop, has been approved by Australian regulatory food safety authority Dairy Food Safety Victoria as an alternate treatment to pasteurisation for raw milk. The federal government has also jumped on board, providing $1 million in funding, which will be used to build a pilot milk manufacturing plant in Coolum on the Sunshine Coast. There are also plans to build a full-scale facility in regional Tasmania.

Haelen method inventor and Naturo CEO, Jeff Hastings.

Playing the long game

While the actual process is a tightly-guarded secret right now, the Haelen method delivers milk that’s 100 percent natural with no additives or preservatives. It retains its natural colour and taste, has been found to be nutritionally superior to pasteurised milk and has a minimum 60-day refrigerated shelf life when compared to other forms of processed cow’s milk. Once opened, the milk can stay fresh for 21 days or more.

This new tech could be a major game-changer for the Australian export market, as the product’s extended shelf life means milk can be shipped, rather than flown, to countries all over the world. And while the process has only been applied to cow’s milk at this stage, it has the potential to be used for other forms of milk such as camel, goat and sheep’s milk.

Local dairy farmers also hope to benefit, as the Haelen method could open up new markets. Despite accounting for just under two percent of the world’s milk production, producing 9.3 billion litres in 2018, Australia is one of just a handful of countries that produces more milk than can be consumed domestically. This leaves large volumes of milk that can be exported. Australia also has significant untapped milk production capabilities and is one of the only locations on the planet that has the potential to rapidly expand its current milk production, particularly in Tasmania and Victoria.

The food tech boffins at Naturo are keeping a tight lid on their milk-making secret.

Too cool for school

Pasteurisation heats milk to a minimum of 72°C for at least 15 seconds to make it safe for human consumption, and long-life milk is also made using ultra-high temperatures to kill bacteria. The Haelen method is able to kill pathogens without relying on heat, instead using intensely cold temperatures.

“The primary difference between our milk and pasteurised milk is the fact that we don’t ‘cook’ the milk to make it safe for human consumption,” says Naturo founder and CEO Jeff Hastings, the agricultural engineer who created the Haelen method. “Our milk is much closer to milk in its original state and is independently proven to be nutritionally superior.”

Hastings has previously developed processing technology for sliced apples for the international market and more recently commercialised 100 percent natural avocado processing technology that produces “no-browning” cut avocado.

“An issue with pasteurised milk is that while heating makes it safer, it destroys some of the goodness in the milk,” Hastings explains. “Specifically, it kills all alkaline phosphatase activity – an essential enzyme for liver function and bone development – and reduces vitamin B2 and B12 levels. These are particularly essential vitamins for children.

“Our milk tastes like milk straight from the cow. It’s safer, better for you and lasts longer.”

The new milk will be available in Queensland soon.

Magic moo juice

The Haelen process is also the only known method that kills Bacillus cereus, a common spore-forming bacterium in milk that produces toxins that can cause vomiting or diarrhoea.

“Put simply, our technology kills more bugs and has a significantly superior shelf life,” Hastings says. “In fact, in our most recent independent scientific testing, the milk remained fresh and fit for human consumption at the conclusion of a 91-day testing period, when compared to only 14 days for standard fresh pasteurised milk.”

Because of its extended shelf life, the milk can be shipped to parts of the world that have limited or no access to fresh milk, including to remote Australian communities where access to nutritious fresh food is often limited. There’s also huge potential for the development of a wide range of dairy products, as well as use by industries where unpasteurised milk is preferred, such as in cheesemaking.

So, when will we see this new milk on our supermarket shelves? A range of yet-to-be-named products will become available in Queensland from March/April this year, with national and international supply expected in 2022.