Inside Farming: Want Safety? Think Milk!

The process behind clean Canadian milk from the farm to the processor

By Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

Many steps in place on Canadian dairy farms to ensure milk is kept clean, safe and nutritious from teat to glass.

Many steps are in place on Canadian dairy farms to ensure milk is kept clean, safe and nutritious — from teat to glass.

Every year, I visit the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair to show my heifer, and part of this experience is talking to the

cab drivers while I travel to and from the grounds and the hotel. This year, I got into a great conversation with a cabby about why he buys organic milk. He said that he feels safer giving his children organic milk to avoid the hormones and antibiotics in milk. The impression left on me from this conversation was, “how can anyone feel unsafe drinking any sort of milk in Canada?” You see, Canadian milk is one of the safest things you can buy in the stores to drink. All Canadian milk is 100 per cent free from artificial hormones and antibiotics. In fact, the only thing that is in Canadian milk (besides milk) is vitamins A and D which, by law, have to be added. So, how is milk so safe? Let me tell you!

It all starts with the milking process. The first step is the cows having their teats cleaned, usually with an iodine solution, to ensure that no dirt or bacteria gets into the milk from the teat surface. Once the teats are cleaned, the milkers are attached to the cow’s udder. The milk is sent through pipelines into the milk house. The milk passes through a filter and is stored in a bulk tank where it is cooled and held until the milk truck comes to pick it up. Once the cow is done milking out, the milker is removed and the teats are again dipped in iodine solution. This ensures bacteria does not enter the udder through the teat. If there is a cow that is sick, has just calved, or has been treated with any sort of antibiotics or drugs, her milk is kept separate from the bulk tank and is discarded. Each drug that is used on a dairy cow has a specific withdrawal time, meaning that after the drug is used on the cow, a waiting period of hours to days has to be strictly followed while the drug works its way out of the cow’s system. If there are any traces of the drug in the cow’s system, her milk cannot be sold.

The milk that is safe for processing is stored in the bulk tank until the milk truck comes to pick it up and deliver it to

Milk is stored on farm in these temperature-controlled, stainless steel bulk tanks until it can be picked up by the milk truck.

Milk is stored on farm in these temperature-controlled, stainless steel bulk tanks until it can be picked up by the milk truck.

the processing plant. The truck usually comes every other day to ensure that the milk is kept fresh. Before the milk is pumped out of the bulk tank, a sample is taken and labelled with a barcode so that it can be tested and traced back to which farm it came from. When the milk is tested at the processors, they are looking for any traces of artificial hormones and antibiotics. In Canada, dairy farmers are not allowed to use artificial hormones to increase milk production, so this test ensures that every dairy farm is following this rule. The milk is also tested for somatic cell count. Somatic cells are foreign material in milk, such as white blood cells, bacteria, and old skin cells. The limit for somatic cells in Canada is 400,000 cells per millilitre of milk. While the limit may be 400,000, most producers strive to have the lowest number possible, as lower numbers mean that their cows are healthier. If the somatic cell count is too high, the farmer is penalized, and if the farm continues to ship milk that is above the 400,000 cell count, the processor will stop accepting it. If any antibiotics or artificial hormones found in the milk, the farmer is again penalized, and the tainted milk is discarded to ensure it never reaches the production line.

All of this is done to ensure that Canadians have safe, clean milk that they can trust. We never have to worry that we are getting more in our milk than just milk, and I think that is pretty cool

Inside Farming is a series of articles written by Canadian Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (CanACT) members at the University of Guelph.

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