Dairy products are a staple in the diets of many American families, whether they are lovers of milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream or all of the above. But it takes some effort to safely get the milk from Nebraska’s 200 dairy farms to the processors that create the dairy products consumers enjoy.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture is involved in each stage of the process, conducting on-site inspections of dairy farms, milk haulers, single service plants, bulk milk trucks and tankers, manufacturing plants and fluid milk bottling plants.
“Most consumers are not aware of the inspection process or laboratory scrutiny the farmers and milk plants must go through to market dairy products,” says George Hanssen, Food Safety and Consumer Protection administrator for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “In fact, dairy farms are inspected as frequently or even more frequently than restaurants.”
NDA inspectors check for basic sanitation and cleanliness of dairy barns, milking parlors and milking equipment, and monitor the use of medication for the animals, checking for proper administration. Inspectors also regularly collect milk samples from both the dairy farms and the milk plants, and those samples are analyzed for antibiotics and bacteria at the NDA Laboratory. Any milk testing positive is discarded.
“NDA samples the milk from every producer,” Hanssen says. “This process helps farmers stay on top of properly cleaning and sanitizing equipment, which in turn helps reduce the chance of problems with the milk at the processing plant.”
In addition to NDA testing, pasteurization at the processing plant helps ensure any pathogens that may cause food-borne illnesses are eliminated, Hanssen says.
Many things happen from the time a farmer milks his cows until that milk (or other dairy product) hits grocery store shelves.
A brief synopsis of the dairy process:
- Cows are cared for and provided ample food and water.
- Cows are milked two to three times daily in a licensed, inspected milk barn.
- The milk is stored in a bulk tank at below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until it is picked up by a certified milk tanker driver and delivered to a milk plant. (The milk is kept in the bulk tank on the farm usually no more than 24 hours.)
- The milk is processed and made into dairy products, including milk for drinking, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, cottage cheese and more.
- The plant delivers the dairy products in a refrigerated truck either to a grocery store or a distributor. Distributors deliver products to retail stores.
- At the store, the products are held in walk-in coolers at 41 degrees or below, waiting for consumers.
- Stores are also inspected by sanitarians from NDA to assure coolers holding dairy products are kept at the proper temperature and have proper sanitation.