Milk is among the most highly regulated foods in the country. Maintaining milk’s freshness and quality is a job that starts at the farm and continues through processing. From the time the milk leaves the cow’s udder, it is chilled to about 38 degrees and remains cold in a stainless steel tank. Milk is picked up at dairy farms every day of the year and is shipped immediately to a processing plant where it is tested, pasteurized and bottled.
Quality Starts on the Farm
Farmers pay special attention to the diets and living conditions of their animals. Just as some people consult dietitians to help them eat right, many dairy farmers consult with feed nutritionists to design a well-balanced diet for their cows. Nutritious feed is the first step toward good milk. Properly sanitized equipment and thorough cleaning of the cow’s udder before milking is equally important. As the cow is being milked, her milk flows through refrigerated pipes to a sanitized bulk tank where it is immediately cooled down from her body temperature — about 100 degrees F — to 38-45 degrees F. This preserves freshness and guarantees safety. The milk is then picked up by a milk truck, which serves as a giant refrigerator on wheels.
On-farm Testing Happens Daily
Before the milk is delivered to the plant, the truck driver takes a sample of the milk to test for impurities, such as antibiotic residues, that would compromise quality. If antibiotic residue is detected, the entire tank of milk is immediately discarded, never to reach America’s families. The farmer responsible for the impure milk may have to pay the cost of the entire truckload of milk, so each farmer’s incentive to maintain milk quality is high. Government data indicates that less than one tanker in 1,000 tests positive for drug residues, a sign that the system is working.
Farm Inspections are Routine
Inspectors from state regulatory agencies and milk processing plants make surprise visits to farms on a regular basis. These unannounced visits are just one more set of checks and balances to make sure animal living conditions are clean, milking equipment is being properly sanitized and the facilities in general provide a safe working environment for all.