Recipes - Sampling Systems
Dairies are closing at a rate of eight to fourteen percent per year and have been for the last four years. In the media, a day does not go by where there isn’t a story about another dairy closing. Last month, an auction notice was posted for a five hundred cow dairy farm going under. With an average butterfat of 3.7 and somatic cell counts of 185,000, the reason for closure wasn’t due to the quality of the milk. These numbers are excellent and in a normal dairy market, this farm should have been able to easily sustain itself.
The question becomes: Even in this difficult market, why weren’t they able to sustain themselves?
There are always external reasons like divorce, death, or bad investments that can lead to the death of a farm. What if the problem was not the quality of the milk produced, but the sample taken from which the farm was paid?
I recently had an opportunity to speak with the owner of a 700-cow dairy who had lost his quality premium for the month of February. While reviewing the quality totals, I noticed six distinct spikes in his bacteria counts that were obviously outliers. These outliers were not consistent over a few days, were not associated with any farm related event, and his components remained consistent. The farmer is currently milking into a 6000 lbs. bulk tank and the sample is taken using traditional methods.
The traditional method of sampling, which has been in practice for over 100 years, has 17 points where human error can be introduced. Based on these human errors and through no fault of the farmer, this producer’s quality premium was lowered, and he lost $3,500 for that month. Further, this was the second time in the last year that this had happened. This is a substantial blow to a 700-cow dairy and to the morale of the farmer. On top of all the other stressors the farmer faces, an inaccurate sample should be the last thing he has to worry about, especially when there are alternative methods available to remove human error.
I opened the refrigerator and pulled the gallon of milk out eagerly anticipating the first sip of goodness. After breaking open the sealed cap of the new container, I watched the smooth flow of the brilliant white fluid fill my glass to the top. Lifting it to my lips, I swallowed a couple of large mouthfuls and immediately spit it out. I had expected to taste the rich and creamy flavor of whole milk, but instead, the inside of my mouth was coated with the taste of a farm.
I have been on thousands of farms, and inside each milk house of everyone I have visited has the distinct aroma of stagnant milk. This is a subset of bacteria called Psychrotrophic Spore-formers. These bacteria grow in temperatures between 0 to 7 degrees Celsius and is a factor of what cause milk to spoil in the refrigerator. Further, these bacteria are activated by pasteurization, which releases the spore inside the bacteria. Some species, like Bacillus, are even resistant to the pasteurization process.
Could this be avoided?
Yes. We could increase the temperature and shorten the time of the pasteurization process. In Europe, milk is pasteurized at 135 degrees Celsius for 2-5 seconds. This method not only kills the bacteria, but the spores as well. But this solution is not economically feasible in the United States as the entire dairy industry would need to change its process. Also, the very particular U.S. market would have to adapt to the change in taste that is associated with Ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) milk.
Increase sanitation standards and testing
The more economical option would be to increase sanitation standards and testing for this specific group of bacteria on the farm. Testing every tanker truck’s load of milk for Lab. Pasteurized counts (LPC), and Preliminary incubation (PI) and reducing the acceptable levels would also accomplish this goal. Understandably, this could increase the stress on an already burdened farmer, but this proactive measure would be an investment in the industry and have far-reaching effects.
Saddened by my findings, I knew what I needed to do. I poured the entire gallon of milk down the drain. What was even worse, is I knew this was not a unique case.
The sale of fluid milk is decreasing rapidly, compensation is at a 4-year low and farmers are struggling. The only way to stop the trend is to find ways to protect the product and brand. Increased testing for non-pathogenic bacteria which create customer dissatisfaction needs to become a major priority. If we work together, the dairy industry can re-establish itself as a premier product.
This summer has brought many personal and professional changes. Following a curiosity to develop the international arm of our business, I jumped all in, moved over the pond and opened new location in Stavanger, Norway. We have customers in over thirty countries, however, until now we have not dedicated training or support for our international partners.
Setting up in Norway has been an adjustment with many positive surprises. Simple ones from having a wide selection of brunost (dessert-like cheese made from whey) for breakfast, never-ending sunsets to running through security in five minutes to train our new Italian distributor. The best one yet is passing a dairy farm every morning, who can’t love that?
While there are many great transitions, it can’t go without saying that there are challenges. Communication at times has been slow opening a new office in the summer. July is a typical month-long holiday for Northern Europe and leading into August when the rest of Europe slows down. However, it has opened more time to set up calls with our other regional partners.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the middle of success stories from different countries with plants and farms solving sampling challenges. My focus in the upcoming months is to highlight those stories and improve food safety or payment integrity for farmers. Reach out if you have any questions or just have an equal fascination about sampling and the impact it can have for dairy.
Welcome to the QualiTru Sampling Systems Blog! Check back often for interesting new articles posted on a regular basis from a variety of QualiTru team members located all over the world.
Here you will read blogs about our experiences and observations as an industry leader in aseptic sampling in the food and beverage arena. Our history lies in dairy, but we regularly receive requests for new applications. You can never over sample!