Volume 82, Number 1 January/February 2011
Milk and milk products are among the safest and highest quality foods in the U.S., in large part due to the strict food safety controls and vigilance at every stage of dairy production, processing, and distribution. Many stakeholders, including the government, dairy farmers, dairy processors, transporters, retailers, and consumers, share responsibility for protecting the quality and safety of milk and other dairy foods, both conventionally and organically produced.
Food safety controls, including the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), Good Manufacturing Practices, and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points are used by the dairy industry to provide consumers with safe, high quality milk and milk products. The PMO is the primary public health safeguard for the nation’s milk supply.
Microbiological contamination is the major food safety concern. Because of the nutrient rich composition of milk and milk products, these foods can support the growth of a variety of pathogenic bacteria. However, due to milk pasteurization, as well as improved sanitation and dairy herd health, the incidence of milkborne illness in the U.S. is less than1% of annually reported food and water outbreaks, down from approximately 25% of all reported outbreaks in1938. The majority of milkborne illnesses are associated with the consumption of raw (unpasteurized) milk and milk products. For this reason, pasteurization of milk and restriction of raw milk sales is supported by many government agencies, health and scientific organizations, and the dairy industry. Risk of adverse health effects from chemical contaminants in milk and other dairy foods is minimal to non-existent because of strict regulations from the farm to the marketplace.
Ensuring milk’s quality and safety requires proper attention to conditions from the farm to retail outlets. On the farm, dairy farmers adhere to strict food safety regulations and provide their animals with safe, comfortable housing, nutritious feed, regular veterinary care, and sanitary milking procedures. At the dairy processing plant, incoming milk is tested for quality and milk is pasteurized to assure its microbiological safety. Dairy processors take measures (e.g., refrigerated storage, adherence to sanitary procedures) to prevent post-pasteurization contamination of milk and other dairy products.
Retailers and consumers maintain the quality and safety of milk and milk products by keeping these perishable foods at proper temperatures and by following recommended handling practices. For example, consumers are advised to pick up milk and other perishable dairy products just before checking out of the store, especially in hot weather, and once home, immediately refrigerate milk at 40° F or below. Dairy foods are regularly monitored from farm to retail outlets to ensure compliance with government and industry food quality and safety regulations.
Consumers can be assured that the dairy industry, along with the U.S. government, continually places the utmost importance on the quality and safety of milk and other dairy products. By taking a proactive approach such as adopting new technologies and working with government agencies, the dairy industry can effectively meet new food safety challenges as they may arise.
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