Tell, and retell, the dairy story

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Recently, one of the student organizations at Ohio State University invited a speaker from a major agricultural firm to campus. This individual held a unique position of director of communications for millennials.

The presentation was very intriguing of millennials’ own story, how knowledge is gained and how our perception of knowledge level changes, and how we should communicate with others about food production systems.

One of the concepts shared was the Dunning-Kruger Effect (Figure 1), which illustrates individuals with little knowledge of a subject have a high confidence level in the subject; however, as they gain more knowledge about the subject, their confidence drops because of uncertainty if they have adequate information.

As additional knowledge is gained, then confidence rebounds to an extent, but often in a more narrow field so as to be an expert in given subjects.

This concept is quite intriguing and certainly, we can see this going on about the many issues relating to the dairy industry and dairy product consumption.

Speaking out

One of the central messages by the speaker is that we need to continue to tell our story to provide for a more informed society, including about the dairy industry.

Thus, there are a couple of aspects that I want to share in this article and other points will be made in future columns.

We often hear about the relationships of human health and dairy products — some of the information presented as positive and some negative. Yet, the two points I want to share here are the development of the smallpox vaccine and pasteurization.

The ag connection

In 1796, Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine, the first successful vaccine developed. Typically, the men in those days worked in the field and the women fed and cared for the animals in the barn. He had observed that milkmaids who had previously caught cowpox did not later catch smallpox, indicating that inoculated cowpox protected against inoculated smallpox.

With this vaccine, the disease was essentially eradicated in the U.S. and smallpox vaccination is no longer a routine vaccine unless you are in the military.

We often think that it was because of milk that pasteurization was developed. In 1864, Louis Pasteur discovered that microbes were causing wine to sour, and he developed pasteurization to improve the quality and shelf life for wine.

Then it was realized that pasteurization could be used to prevent diseases, such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, Q-fever, and others.

The pasteurization of milk began commercially in the late 1800s in Europe and the 1900s in the US.

Through the use of pasteurization of milk, the technological method was advanced over the years, and today, many juices are pasteurized to reduce the risk of disease.

The modern process is very energy efficient whereby direct heat is not used but hot water passes through plates to heat the milk on the other side of the plates. Once the milk reaches the proper temperature for the adequate amount of time, cold water cools the milk down quickly as a continuous process through a series of plates.

Part of the story about dairy is how the industry has benefited human health and improved food safety. Many other stories exist, some of which we will explore in future articles.

In the meantime, tell your story to others you come in contact with to better their understanding of the dairy industry. That is, if they choose to listen. Yet, it could be that you stimulate their appetite for continuing to learn more.

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