Ask for a glass of milk in a Costa Rican home, and your host will most likely pour you a room-temperature glass, the same as in Europe. Do the same in the United States or Canada, and your host will likely pull an ice-cold quart out of the fridge.
Most of the world doesn’t refrigerate milk. Hard to believe, but true.
Before you go bonkers with worry about food poising, you should know that it is perfectly safe to drink. It’s all in the process.
Milk in Costa Rica, Central and South America, like in Europe, uses ultra-high-temperature or ultra-heat-treated pasteurization (UHT), which heats the milk to an even higher temperature than HTST used in North America.
HTST is less expensive and more efficient for processing milk in larger batches, but as a result, milk has a shorter shelf life – around 10 days – and must be refrigerated.
UHT or Proceso UAT in Spanish milk packaged in a sterile container, if not opened, has a typical unrefrigerated shelf life of six to nine months. In contrast, HTST pasteurized milk has a shelf life of about two weeks from processing, or about one week from being put on sale.
In the early 1990s, there was an attempt to sell UHT milk on American shelves, but it never caught on. UHT milk tastes a bit more “cooked” that HTST, but most likely UHT never caught on is the obsession of North Americans with refrigeration.
Though UHT is most commonly used in milk production, the process is also used for fruit juices, cream, soy milk, yogurt, wine, soups, honey, and stews.