The necessary unequivocal and generally accepted definitions of normal and abnormal milk are not available. A precise definition is needed in order for companies to develop sensors to detect and sort abnormal milk at the time of milking. Experts at a workshop defined abnormal milk to be that from cows whose foremilk had changed in homogeneity or was coloured by blood. The objectives of this paper were: firstly, to explore how different groups of people scored the appearance of foremilk; and secondly, to develop a method suitable as an objective reference for testing of manual and automatic detection systems. Consumers, farmers and advisors did not agree on the visual appearance of normal, watery, clotty milk, or milk with blood, and experience is needed to score the visual appearance of foremilk correctly. It seems reasonable to expect a sensitivity of at least 70% for detection of abnormal milk during foremilking. Filter sizes 0·05, 0·07, 0·1, 0·2, 0·5, 1·0, and 2·0 mm were used to filter milk from cows with visually abnormal foremilk. If clots appeared in the foremilk, clots appeared on all size filters, but the filter with pore size 0·1 mm was the easiest to read and work with. The filter method is not reliable in identifying quarters with watery, yellowish, or bloody milk, whereas the method seems consistent, and at least as good as scoring of visual appearance in finding clots in the milk. Clots should show clearly on the filter to be counted as abnormal milk. All clinical cases with clots in the foremilk can be found on the filter and such cases have high somatic cell count (SCC). Both trained and untrained persons using the filter method can score normal and abnormal foremilk with a high specificity (>90%) and a high sensitivity (>80%). The filter method is recommended as a reference for scoring the homogeneity of foremilk.