Way We Were: Changing standards for milk
Park City Museum
Public health became an increasingly prevalent concern in the United States in the late 19th century. As scientists and medical professionals came to understand more about pathogens, disease and sanitation, regulations grew more stringent. It was during this era that local and national standards governing dairy farms and milk products were introduced.
Standards were usually based on two criteria: health and cleanliness; and quality. The primary health concern was bovine tuberculosis, which was communicable to humans through bacteria in milk. 1890 marked the first year regulations were instituted regarding bovine tuberculosis and over the next several decades, farmers worked to eradicate the disease entirely. One method was to test dairy herds once a year and eliminate infected animals from the herd. This method was expensive but provided very satisfactory long-term results. A second method, usually employed along with the first, was to pasteurize the milk itself. In the short-run this solution was cheaper than testing herds for bacteria and so was often used even before a farmer could afford to pay to have his herd inspected. Pasteurization by heating milk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least twenty minutes before consumption killed the tuberculosis bacteria in contaminated milk and prevented spread of the disease.
While health and cleanliness standards protected humans from dangerous bacteria, quality standards were designed to prevent fraud. For instance, skimming milk was considered reducing its food value and, in the early 1900s, was illegal in several places throughout the country. Where it was legal, the milk was required to be labeled as skimmed before it could be sold. Watering down milk was also considered fraud and anyone caught selling sub-standard quality milk faced consequences, sometimes even in criminal court.
Park City had several instances of dairy fraud. In 1910, Food and Dairy Commissioner Walter J. Frazier revoked C.H. Steven’s permit to ship milk to Salt Lake City. The reasons cited were related to the “fluid being bellowed the standard and very dirty.” In addition to not meeting cleanliness standards, the milk was discovered to be watered. In shipping to Salt Lake, Steven’s business crossed county lines. Because of this, his case was handed over to the state food inspector for resolution.
Just one year later, Mary Payne, a respected long-time Parkite, was brought before a county judge accused of watering down the milk that she sold. The Payne family farmed in Parley’s Park (Snyderville) in 1911 and was one of eleven milk distributors in the area. Mary Payne’s case was less clear-cut than Steven’s. Dozens of loyal customers testified that the milk she sold was “perfectly satisfactory.” Payne’s attorney argued that the state health inspector “had not complied with the law” in his evaluation process. At trial, the prosecutor “failed to make much of a case.” Nevertheless, Judge Waters found her guilty and imposed a fine of $100. On recommendation of both the prosecuting attorney and the state inspector who’d originally filed the complaint, the fine was reduced to $25.
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Tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world are descending on the Park City area amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak. Summit County health officials are talking to the CDC, but say as of now, it’s the flu that poses more of a danger.