Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Putting back more than we take out

Permeate. What is it? Why are milk products ‘Permeate Free’? Is it dangerous?

Every time you look at a milk container, you can see the words permeate free printed, but what does this mean? Are there certain milk brands that put something in their milk other than milk?

In this blog I cover off on the misconceptions and deceptions that have occurred around permeate.


Where did it begin?

The concern over permeate began mid-2012, with stories from Sydney Morning Herald  of “a watery, greenish waste product” that “forms up to 16 per cent of the fresh milk we drink”, and similar statements showing up in many other headlines in popular newspapers and news reports. These reports made people concerned that milk companies were cheating them on the quality of their milk, and so the milk companies responded by placing these new labels seen today saying their product is “Permeate Free”.

Advertisements such as this one by Dairy Farmers lead the charge.


What is Permeate?

When raw milk is brought into a factory, the milk is put through several processes to deliver the customers the products they know and love. One process that may be used by factories is ultra-filtration. This process separates out the lactose, vitamins and minerals from the water and protein (All the things that make up milk). The Lactose, vitamins and minerals that are separated out, are what as referred to as the permeate. The water and protein (referred to as retentate) is then used to produce cheese.


What’s wrong with Permeate?

There’s nothing wrong with permeate! The concern with consumers was that it was not necessary for milk companies to label their milk cartons with any mention of permeate. Why should they need to? There is nothing in permeate that wasn’t already in the milk they were selling to consumers anyway, and it saved the company money as it meant they were not needing to dispose of the unused ingredients of milk in cheese making. However, when one news reporter heard about milk companies adding “waste product” back into milk, they went out of their way to make it sound ominous and disgusting. Then when the consumers heard these outrageous stories, they made a huge fuss about it to producers. A number of producers admitted that they were putting permeate into their milk, while others proudly stated they did not, and that they believed it was wrong to do so as well. These complaints and reports led to a whole new marketing scheme for dairy producers.


Naturally Permeate Free!

‘Naturally Permeate Free’

Now when you go to the supermarket, you can’t pick up a bottle of milk without seeing the label “Permeate Free” somewhere on the carton. As far as I am aware this is due to the push from consumers which insist that they should be told about everything that is within the milk. To appeal to this, all companies have adopted the “Permeate Free” label without much fuss, some going as far as to say they are “Naturally” Permeate Free, which is true. For most companies, this extra label changes nothing about their product, it’s still the same milk they were selling before. The only thing is that it adds a couple of cents to the production for the companies that did add permeate back into their milk. As now they must find another way to dispose of the Permeate.

‘Permeate Free’


For a video description on this topic, the T.V. show The Checkout is the show to watch.





The Checkout 2013, television program, ABC1, Sydney, 2 May

Beck, M and Hawthorne, M 2012, ‘Waste product becomes cream of the crop in milk wars’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 April, retrieved 16 April 2016,

Dairy Australia 2012, Permeate – everything you need to know about milk standardisation, Nutrition Australia, retrieved 16 April 2016,

Legndairy 2013, How is Milk made?, Dairy Australia, retrieved 16 April 2016,

justfoundout 2012, naturally permeate free, photograph, retrieved 19 April 2016,

creativepassion 2012, permeate-free-campaign, graphics, retrieved 19 April 2016,


About djpye

Just another layabout, trying to find ways to entertain himself.

One comment on “Putting back more than we take out

  1. djpye
    April 19, 2016

    Just to add on more to this, however off topic:

    With the correct machines, the Permeate can be turned into other products such as Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). This is then used in baby formulas, GOS works as a prebiotic and helps improve the immune system.


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This entry was posted on April 19, 2016 by in Burwood - Wednesday 11am and tagged , , .

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