ca.gov

California Department of Food and Agriculture

Dairy consumer: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Getting the Best Buy...

  2. What is the purpose of the "sell-by" date?

  3. Why don't stores put milk on sale?

  4. Why are milk prices regulated?

  5. How do California's milk standards differ from other states?

  6. How do I participate in a public hearing?

  7. How far back is statistical information archived?

  8. How does Grade A milk differ from Grade B milk?

  9. Where can I find the history of dairy regulation?

  10. How much milk was produced in California last year?

  11. Where can I find other websites regarding the dairy industry?

  12. Do you have forms in electronic format?

  13. What is PDF and why is it used on the website?

  14. How do I obtain written material on the dairy industry?

  15. Can outsourcing milk to other states reduce the retail price of milk?


1.  Getting the Best Buy...
A.  The Department regulates the transaction between dairy farmers and milk processors and sets a minimum price that must be paid to the farmers. That is where price regulation ends, however; retail stores are free to set prices as high as they determine to be appropriate. In short, there is no maximum price that can be charged.

Consumers are urged to compare milk prices in stores carrying more than one brand of milk. They may save considerably by selecting the lower-priced brand. This is particularly true in major chain grocery stores where the prices on first label brands (or store brand) are among the highest in the California. However, major chain grocery store prices for the second label (or off-brands) milks are typically priced competitively with membership stores, such as Sam's Club or Costco. In addition, consumers can find low prices for milk at the non-traditional discount general merchandise/grocery retail stores and drugstores.

It is also recommended that:
When possible, consumers should take advantage of milk that is priced to be sold in two-packs, i.e., two one-gallon units – this are definitely cost savings there. Membership stores throughout the state offer two-pack pricing on whole, reduced fat and nonfat milk and have the lowest retail prices available. When milk is purchased in single gallon units, consumers should be aware that prices vary
by store, and significant price differences may exist within the same city. Retail stores that don't specialize in grocery sales often have the lowest milk prices.

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2.  What is the purpose of the "sell-by" date?
A.  All milk containers offered for sale by a retail store must have a clearly marked "sell by" date. This date is established by the milk processor and is the date upon which, in order to ensure quality, the milk will be removed from the shelf or dairy case. This date also lets the consumer know how long the purchased milk stored in their refrigerator will be fresh. Milk purchased is guaranteed to be fresh up to and including that date providing the milk has been stored at the proper temperatures. Your milk will be fresher for a longer period of time if you look for the most recently packaged milk. Milk is a perishable product and when stored in cooler temperatures, will remain fresher for a longer period of time. If you suspect that your store does not keep its milk cold enough, ask the store manager at what temperature its dairy case is maintained. Stores are required to keep their dairy case 45° or lower.

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3.  Why don't stores put milk on sale?
A.  Stores may put milk on sale at any time as long as the retail price of milk does not go below the store's cost to obtain the product. Stores may offer coupons for milk as well, but the same admonition applies - stores are not allowed to sell dairy products for less than the store's cost to obtain the products. Stores may be able to offer milk at prices below their costs if they are doing so to meet a lawful competitive price.

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4.  Why are milk prices regulated?
A.  Another way to ask the same question is, "To what extent is governmental intervention still needed to achieve orderly marketing of dairy products?" Many of the characteristics of milk and related economic conditions that justified government intervention in dairy markets in the 1930's have remained the same. Some of the key characteristics are:

  • Milk is a perishable product and must be harvested daily
  • Producers outnumber processors 12 to 1
  • Health regulations are insufficient to assure an adequate supply of milk o Production is highest when demand for fluid milk is at a seasonal low
  • Milk continues to be viewed as a necessary food item, particularly for children.

These factors contribute to the potential for disorderly marketing of milk in the absence of government intervention. Marketing of milk and dairy products faces many of the same challenges that other commodities face. Without economic regulation, a strong potential exists for volatile and chaotic production and marketing practices. Milk supplies and market demands would be out of balance for extended periods of time. The swings in milk prices between the highs and lows would be much greater without government intervention.

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5.  How do California's milk standards differ from other states?
A.  From the nutritionist's standpoint, California's fluid milk standard is healthier because lower fat (i.e., 2 percent, 1 percent and nonfat varieties) fluid milk is fortified with nonfat solids (calcium, protein and assorted vitamins and mineral). Whereas the national fluid standard for solids-not-fat (SNF) are 8.25 percent by volume, and 3.25 percent fat in whole milk, California requires 8.7 percent SNF by volume, and 3.5 percent fat. In 2 percent milk, the SNF percentage jumps to 10 in California, while it remains at 8.25 percent under the federal standard. Put another way, the Dairy Council of California reports that the federal standard requires 261 milligrams of calcium in an eight-ounce glass of milk, regardless of its fat content. The California standard fortifies this number to 276 milligrams of calcium in whole milk, 317 milligrams in 2 percent milk and 348 milligrams in 1 percent milk. Nonfat milk sold in California is required to have 285 milligrams of calcium.

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6.  How do I participate in a public hearing?
A.  Hearings on California's minimum farm prices are held to gather relevant testimony and evidence regarding whether or not the current pricing formulas are serving the purpose for which they are intended. All milk pricing hearings are open to the public but only those that sign up to testify will be asked to do so. Written or prepared testimony is not required. Participation may be accomplished without actually attending the hearing itself. Anyone can submit comments to the Secretary of Food and Agriculture in advance of the hearing and ask that the letter be introduced into the hearing record.

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7.  How far back is statistical information archived?
A.  The short answer is that it depends on what type of information is requested. Some pricing data goes back 50 years or more. Notwithstanding those unusual cases, a safe rule of thumb to use is 10 to 15 years. On the website, most data goes back 5 to 7 years. If you are looking for older data, do not hesitate to contact us.

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8.  How does Grade A milk differ from Grade B milk?
A.  The designation, "Grade A" denotes a higher quality milk that has been produced under more sanitary conditions. Grade A dairy farms are inspected regularly to ensure that Grade A conditions are maintained in the production of milk, e.g., cleanliness of the facility and of the cows, suitability of the milking parlor and sanitary handling (and cooling) of the milk. Furthermore, specific bacteriological limits are placed on Grade A milk, including Standard Plate Counts for bacteria, maximum somatic cell counts and maximum limits on Coliform and Laboratory Pasteurized Counts.

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9.  Where can I find the history of dairy regulation?
A.  A number of publications on this website provide some insight to dairy regulation in California. All such documents are maintained on the "Dairy Publications" page, and, more specifically, in the Dairy Information section page. The publications entitled, "Milk Pricing In California" and "The History of Milk Pooling" provide the best shortened versions of the background of dairy regulation in California.

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10.  How much milk was produced in California last year?
A.  In 2011, California produced 41.4 billion pounds of milk, valued at approximately $7.67 billion.

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11.  Where can I find other websites regarding the dairy industry?
A.  Click on "Dairy Related Links" located in the Resources section, right-hand side of the web page.

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12.  Do you have forms in electronic format?
A.  We strive to make doing business in the California dairy industry simpler. There are numerous datasets available in PDF and in Excel formats on the website. Milk Handler license applications for processors and distributors are available in PDF format in the Licensing section.

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13.  Do you have forms in electronic format?
A.  Portable Document Format (PDF) is a universal file format that preserves the fonts, images, graphics, and layout of any source document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. Adobe® PDF files are compact and complete, and can be shared, viewed, and printed by anyone with free Adobe Reader® software.

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14.  How do I obtain written material on the dairy industry?
A.  As you might imagine, there is a lengthy list of written material available on the dairy industry. A good place to start looking for written material is on the "Dairy Publications" page of the website, and also the General Information area, specifically, in the "Dairy Information".

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15.  Can outsourcing milk to other states reduce the retail price of milk?
A.  In a way, California has that option available and functioning already. California does not provide any barrier to milk produced outside of California as long as the milk meets the compositional and quality standards that all milk sold in California must meet. Milk can be produced and packaged out of state and shipped into California. Milk can also be produced out of state and shipped into California for packaging and distribution. Both of these activities occur regularly.

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