6 ways dairy producers can raise milk hygiene levels

UK dairy farmers may be faced with meeting new milk hygiene levels in the future. Alison Cox global agriculture application specialist with Deosan looks at how you can improve hygiene regimes.

Dairy farmers in the UK may soon be faced with a new target relating to milk quality if processors follow Ireland’s example and impose new penalties relating to milk quality.

Currently, UK dairy farmers are penalised if they go above a certain bactoscan and somatic cell count, which is set by their processor.

 See also: Keeping on top of milk hygiene 

However, in Ireland, dairy co-ops are drilling down further looking for specific bacteria from the environment, namely thermoduric bacteria, which can impact the shelf life and quality of the milk.

These bacteria are measured by laboratory pasteurisation count (LPC) levels, with some farmers having penalties imposed for levels above 500 colony forming unit (cfu) per ml.

What are thermoduric bacteria?

Thermoduric bacteria are specific heat-resistant bacteria that can provide an indication of milk quality and ultimately the hygiene of the milking process. 

In Ireland, where a significant quantity of milk is exported (about 85%) for further processing into high-value goods such as infant formula, milk payments have been affected by thermoduric bacteria counts for a number of years. 

Therefore, dairy farmers in Ireland are focused on improving hygiene procedures so they can attain the minimum quality standard in order to access the export market.

Although it’s unsure when or if UK processors will introduce LPC levels, meeting good hygiene levels may require a review of your processes.

Here are six areas to look at when reviewing hygiene levels: 

1. Are your cow’s teats and udders as clean as they can be?  

At every stage of lactation, whether housed or at grass, teat skin is exposed to a myriad of sources of soiling and bacteria. 

Reducing these challenges and bringing cows into the parlour in a clean condition ensures a smooth and efficient teat preparation routine without putting additional time on your milking.

At the same time, udder preparation should be robust enough to remove dirt and bacteria from the teat skin before milking to ensure exclusion from the raw supply. Sometimes paper towelling on its own is not enough, even in summer.

2. Are you using your own water supply?

Water sourced on the farm may not be of a quality suitable for immediate use. Ensuring the supply is tested properly to confirm it is fit for purpose is a required step, but treatment and storage conditions can often give rise to quality issues where a focus on water management has been overlooked.

3. Do you check the parlour regularly?

Go in search of milk soiling inside the plant. Finding a deposit of any sort indicates a failure in the wash routine.

Nearly half of farms surveyed recently admitted to not visually checking the plant for cleanliness on a regular basis as a means of confirming cleaning efficiency; relying instead on satisfactory bactoscan results as an indicator that all is well. 

4. Is your parlour wash optimised?

Revisit your parlour wash routine. Does it ensure that all key markers are met at each stage of the wash and at every wash, especially when relying on auto wash equipment? 

Key areas to focus on include water volumes, temperature profiling and variations in chemical concentration throughout the wash.  

5. Consider your chemical choice

Are your choices compatible with all the components in your parlour? Could they have a negative effect on the life of the liners?

Will the farm water supply ensure the chemicals deliver an effective cleaning and disinfection?

Is your choice robust enough to avoid you having to take remedial action every so often to bring hygiene results back in line or to remove a build-up?

6. Are there components in the parlour that need replacing?

Cracked, perished components can harbour milk soil deposits, are more difficult to clean and as a result provide a perfect environment for thermoduric bacteria to colonise and multiply without restriction.

What are thermoduric bacteria?

  • Heat resistant bacteria capable of forming spores at high temperatures
  • Mesophilic thermoduric bacteria grow well in warm environments about 32C
  • Psychrophilic thermoduric bacteria grow are cool temperatures about 13C
  • Odourless organism preventing detection
  • Survive the pasteurisation process in their spore state
  • Affect the value of milk – especially in milk for further processing
  • Affect the shelf life of milk. It can multiply in ambient conditions, for example on the shelf leading to rancidity
  • Sources include silage, animal bedding, soils, faeces, milkstone deposits, rubberware, parlour hygiene
  • Common species include bacillus, clostridium and enterococci.