Because You Deserve the Best- Milk Quality Assurance from Farm to Bottle
Is this food safe? Where did it come from? Can I be sure of ingredient quality?
Are these topics often on your mind as you pick up groceries? All too frequently it seems, we read another headline about a new food recall, and then proceed to worry for the health of our families. Or maybe you are someone that has concerns about antibiotic residues in meat or milk. Can you ensure that what you’re consuming is free of potentially harmful substances?
Here at Buckeye Country Creamery, we take our role as a dairy food producer and processor seriously. It is a great responsibility to provide safe and nutritious milk products to our friends and neighbors, and one we assume every day!
So that you can enjoy our milk with confidence, let’s explore some of the many quality control measures that we have in place around here, to protect you and your loved ones. Grab your boots! Let’s head to the milking parlor.
Getting Her Ready
As you may have thought, one of our primary quality checkpoints is the actual milking of the cows. Good milking practices help to keep our cows healthy and their milk clean. Before we can attach the milking machine, we need to be sure that each cow’s teats are free of any manure or other debris. We apply a sanitizing solution, and then wipe dry with a soft towel.
Udder health is also something we check for during milking prep. We always squeeze out the first few squirts of milk by hand from each cow. Why? It is wise to examine milk for any signs of trouble regularly. If the milk that comes out is chunky, watery, or discolored, it might mean that that cow has mastitis, which is an udder infection.
The early identification of odd milk and udder issues are important. We only want good milk to enter our production line. Please know that regardless of whether a cow needs medicine or not to resolve an udder problem, abnormal milk gets caught and thrown out, not bottled!
The Scoop on Milk from Sick Cows
We don’t like to have to use antibiotics or other drugs on our cows! Our goal is to prevent sickness, not have to treat it. But despite our best efforts, animals still get sick on occasion. Just like you sometimes need the help of a doctor and medicine to feel better from an illness, so do cows.
For the protection of human health, the rules and regulations for drug use in food animals are stringent. Only certain medications can be used on milking cows, to begin with. With the help of our veterinarian, we can devise an appropriate plan of attack, and then proceed. So let’s say that one of our cows comes down with a bad case of mastitis, and our treatment plan calls for the use of an antibiotic. The milk from that cow will then be contaminated for the time being, and cannot be used for human consumption.
We dump it and are very diligent in making sure that no accidents happen. When a cow is being treated with an antibiotic, we keep written records about what she has been given and put bright red marking tape on her hind legs. Red leg bands mean, “stop! Milk this cow down the drain, not into the bulk tank!” If a treated cow were to get milked into the tank inadvertently, the entire batch would have to be discarded.
Just because the cow gets better, and we’ve finished giving her medicine does not mean her milk is safe to drink right away. Many drugs have a withdrawal period, which will be outlined on the label. This period usually extends a few days beyond the last treatment, to help guarantee that dangerous drug residues are no longer being excreted into the milk.
Until enough time has passed, the milk must still be tossed. To be extra sure that her milk is safe and legal, we always take a sample and check it using a special test kit. Only if it passes the test, can her milk go into the tank again.
Keepin’ it Clean
From udder to jug, our milk travels through a combination of stainless steel piping, a filter, chilling equipment, holding tanks, the pasteurizer, and the bottle filler.
The milk processing line is a place where bacteria can potentially build up and compromise milk quality, so we must make sure it is cleaned well to prevent that. As you might imagine, after each milking, thorough washing of the entire set up takes place.
Here at our farm, this is a mechanical process, as we have a “clean in place” or CIP system installed. In a CIP system, cleaning is accomplished through a multi-step process that uses lots of hot water, dairy soap, and sanitizing compounds. Wash water gets pumped in and circulated through the pipeline, as well as through the actual milking units that touch the cows.
Much of our creamery equipment is mechanically cleaned as well. However, some components, like the bottling machine, must be partially disassembled. The initial washing of the pasteurizer calls for scrubbing with good old fashioned elbow grease.
Our milking and processing facilities are designed to be easy to wash down, and with minimal places for bacteria to hang out. The milking parlor gets a proper hose down after each use, as does our creamery. Deep cleanings also take place at scheduled intervals.
As it’s probably true at your house, it’s most definitely true around here…the dishes are never done! It may be time consuming and monotonous, but keeping things clean is super important for producing an exceptional product.
Pasteurization for the Win
Pasteurization is the process used to kill off harmful bacteria that might be present in milk and could make you very sick. We are required by law to pasteurize all of the milk used in our products. The method we use is called “vat pasteurization.” We pasteurize at a lower temperature than many milk processors do, but our milk is cooked longer to achieve product safety and meet legal standards. This “low and slow” approach to processing helps to preserve beneficial properties naturally present in milk for you to enjoy!
Feeling Like We’re Being Watched
BCC is a licensed Grade A dairy producer, so this means that the standards we must uphold are high. We are held accountable by multiple regulatory agencies, and there are many tests our products are subject to, as well as vital records that we must keep.
First, it is required that we test every tank of milk that is processed in our creamery for antibiotic residue, to confirm that it is suitable for use. To make sure that each batch of milk is being appropriately pasteurized, a device called a chart recorder is connected to the vat. The temperature of the liquid and the time it was held at that point, are automatically recorded on a paper chart. Government inspectors then use this to verify that we are doing our job right, so that consumers are not harmed.
In addition to paperwork, our facilities are also subject to regular physical assessments by authorities. They check out our equipment and make sure everything is up to code. Inspectors also take more samples of our products for laboratory testing. Among the many things that they screen for are harmful bacteria, as well as double checking for drug residue violations.
We hope this peek into our day to day operations has helped answer your questions and ease any concerns about milk quality and safety. You deserve the best, and that’s precisely what we’re obligated and pleased to deliver. Do you still have questions and/or want the chance to see our facilities in person? Contact us to arrange a tour of the farm, and creamery …we’re always happy to show you around!