Pasteurization Initiative in Tarboro, 1918

A period dairy farm in Greensboro. Image from UNC Greensboro University Libraries.On October 1, 1918, the Tarboro Town Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for unpasteurized milk or cream to be sold within the town limits. The ordinance also established a municipal milk plant—the first of its kind in the nation—where local producers could bring their milk to be pasteurized, processed and sold.

The local law was passed in response to an epidemic of typhoid fever, dysentery and colitis that claimed several lives. Outbreaks like these were more common in small towns than big cities because more rural places lacked access to large commercial dairies that used refrigeration and pasteurization to ensure that milk was safe to drink.

First housed in the town’s water plant with deliveries done by horse-drawn carriage, the plant’s product became popular because of its low prices. By 1924, it operated in a separate building with delivery  by trucks.

Tarboro’s milk plant became an international model, and officials from across the county and around the world came to learn from the small Edgecombe County town’s example.

The plant closed its doors in 1965.

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