Tag Archives: dairy

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

COVID-19 Led Many Dairy Farmers to Dump Milk

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Much of the news coverage surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic mentions infection numbers and fatalities. Those are undoubtedly important for showing parts of the overall impact. However, it’s easy to overlook the ramifications felt by some professionals. One recent example concerns the instances of dairy farmers dumping milk.

Numerous Factors Contributing to the Problem

The pandemic drastically and dramatically disrupted life. Many of the associated changes affected milk producers, but perhaps not in the ways people expect. As schools closed and restaurants operated on delivery or a takeaway-only basis, the demand for milk typically consumed in the food and educational sector went down.

Consider, too, that the pandemic forced the closure of enterprises that did not necessarily serve large quantities of milk every day but still likely placed ongoing orders with suppliers. For example, a daycare center might give toddlers boxes of dairy beverages each day during snack time. Coffee shops often add milk to their lattes or set out bottles for people who want to put some in their coffee.

When coronavirus cases emerged in the United States, many people panicked and flocked to grocery stores for essentials. Milk is often one of the staples people buy before winter storms hit, and they wanted it to prepare for the pandemic, too. One Target store in New Jersey sold out of its entire stock of milk in only five minutes. Stores responded by imposing per-person limits on the product.

If the demand exists, what caused the milk surplus? Part of it boils down to a lack of space at milk processing plants. A related issue is that processors typically serve particular markets. One might cater to retail buyers while another primarily addresses needs in the food service sector. They lack the infrastructure to pivot and begin accepting milk orders from a new type of customer, particularly if the milk-based product is substantially different, like sour cream versus ice cream.

A First-Time Phenomenon

Farmers discarding milk is not unheard of, but it’s not something many producers do regularly. Andrew Griffith, a professor at the University of Tennessee, said that some farmers had to do it recently for the first time in careers spanning decades. He explained, “It’s not that [dumping] hasn’t occurred from farm to farm.” Adverse weather conditions can delay pickups, and unexpected supply spoilages might lead to too much milk.

“But we’re talking about a level of dumping that is not common at all. There [are] a lot of farmers that are experiencing dumping milk for the first time in their 30- or 40-year careers,” Griffith said in an article published on The Counter.

The highly perishable nature of milk poses another problem contributing to the milk surplus. That aspect hit dairy harder than some other types of agricultural goods. People could put grain into silos, but storage is more complicated for dairy products.

Any exposure to higher-than-recommended temperatures causes spoilage. The subsequent risk to consumers means farmers must throw it away. Cold storage facilities are essential for the dairy industry. Statistics from 2018 indicated an average of 10.67 cents per kilowatt-hour for energy consumption at commercial facilities. However, cold storage facilities operate 24/7, so their energy needs are often higher than those of other commercial buildings.

Cows, dairy, farms
The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. Dairy consumption has been trending down for years. (Pexels image)

The delicate nature of the product is another unfortunate aspect that may lead to dumping milk. If a processor has no room to accept the raw goods, there’s nowhere for them to go. In April The Wall Street Journal reported that in one week, producers threw out as much as 7% of the milk in the United States from that period. The same story highlighted how a specialty cheese factory saw sales of its chèvre and ricotta drop by 95% in one day.

Coping With Dairy Industry Fluctuations

The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. A Statista chart profiles the progressive decline of milk consumption in the United States. The average amount of milk per person in 1975 totaled 247 pounds. It plunged to 149 pounds by 2017.

There’s also the issue of people showing a growing preference for plant-based milk alternatives. One industry analysis tracked sales of traditional and oat milk during mid-March. Purchases for the first category rose by 32%, while oat milk sales soared by 476%. A potential reason for that huge increase in the latter category is that supermarkets sell shelf-stable milk alternatives. Those often stay in date for months when unopened.

People can get them in the refrigerated section, too, but they may have preferred not to as they cut down their shopping trips due to COVID-19. Consumers also noticed the increasing number of milk-like beverages made from hemp, hazelnuts and other options. If a person tries one and doesn’t like it, they may try a different option.

Despite those challenges, some dairy farmers anticipated favorable trends—at least before the coronavirus hit. Producers get paid per 100 pounds of milk. Katie Dotterer-Pyle, owner of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, said 2013 was a particularly good year for the rates. Back then, farmers received about $30 for every 100 pounds, although the price has stayed at approximately $17 per 100 over the past two years.

When Might the Milk Surplus Ease?

This coverage emphasizes the lack of a quick fix for the dairy industry strain. As restaurants reopen, that change should help address the problem, but it won’t solve it entirely. Some enterprises refocused their efforts to better meet current demands. One Dallas-based plant that handles dairy products more than halved its output of cardboard milk cartons and increased production of whole and 2% milk for the retail sector. It is now back to normal manufacturing runs.

As mentioned earlier, though, many processors can’t make such changes. Dumping milk becomes a heart-wrenching practice for hard-working producers. Many tried to compensate by selling their least-profitable cows for slaughter or making feeding changes to reduce the animals’ production. Some private entities committed to purchasing milk from farms and getting it to food banks. Other analysts say the government should step in to help.

People in the farming community support each other with tips and reassurance, but most know they could be in for a long struggle. As supply chains recovered from the initial shock of COVID-19, most people stopped panic buying, and stores no longer set product limits. Things are moving in the right direction, but the impacts remain present.

A Complicated Issue

Many state leaders have let businesses reopen, and others are following. Any step toward a new kind of normal is a positive one that should gradually help the dairy sector. However, much of what the future holds remains unknown, mainly since this is a new type of coronavirus, and scientists still have plenty to learn about mitigating it.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Organic Foods Are Growing And So Is Fraud

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Vegetables, food fraud, Decernis
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.
Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

USDA Certified Organic foods keep enjoying a robust growth, with fruit and vegetables leading, followed by dairy and beverages. Fraudulent organic certification is a growing problem, especially because food supply chains are becoming more complex, with a large amount of organic food now being imported. Violations by fraudulent organic certification are punishable by hefty fines and can be reported to the National Organic Program Online Complaint Portal.

Resource

  1. United States Department of Agriculture (March 9, 2020) Scientific Reports 9: “Fraudulent Organic Certificates”.
Dairy

Q3 Hazard Beat: Milk & Dairy Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dairy

The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in milk and dairy from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. For the past several weeks, Food Safety Tech has provided readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report. Next week will conclude this series.

Mailk dairy hazards, HorizonScan
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in fruits and vegetables.

Cargill, facial recognition technology

Facial Recognition for Cows? The Future Is Here

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Cargill, facial recognition technology

Facial recognition technology could be the next step in improving efficiency on dairy farms. Cargill is investing in Dublin-based Cainthus, a company that uses machine vision technology and predictive imaging to monitor livestock. In just seconds, Cainthus’ proprietary software’s imaging technology identifies cows by their features and captures their identity by recording specific patterns and movements. In addition to monitoring behavior patterns, the software can track data such as food and water intake, and heat detection.

“Our shared vision is to disrupt and transform how we bring insights and analytics to dairy producers worldwide. Our customers’ ability to make proactive and predictive decisions to improve their farm’s efficiency, enhance animal health and wellbeing, reduce animal loss, and ultimately increase farm profitability are significantly enhanced with this technology.” – SriRaj Kantamneni, managing director for Cargill’s digital insights business

An artificial intelligence driven mathematical algorithm generates analytics that can send farmers an alert to help them make on-site decisions that impact milk production, reproduction management and overall animal health, according to a Cargill press release.

The companies are concentrating on the dairy industry first and plan to expand to swine, poultry and aqua over the coming months.

Weber Scientific

Rapid PCR Test for Finished Dairy Products Hits Market

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Weber Scientific

Weber ScientificA new PCR yeast and mold test that provides results in just four hours is available for finished dairy products. Developed by Germany-based Biotecon Diagnostics, the foolproof yeast and mold quantification test has demonstrated 100% specificity with 290 strains, representing 260 species with all phylogenetic groups included, according to a release from Weber Scientific. It also demonstrated 100% exclusivity with 60 strains of non-target microorganisms typically found in similar ecological niches (Sensitivity is 101 – 102 cells / g depending on sample type).

“This test is based on well-established real-time PCR technology,” said Phil Coombs, product specialist at Weber Scientific. “There is a high degree of correlation between conventional methods and PCR. Results are displayed in CFU per gram and only viable organisms are detected…The real cost benefits will be achieved by how much more quickly can product be shipped and how many recalls avoided.”

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

Implementing an Effective Listeria Control Plan for Dairy Products

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

In the last three years, there have been four major foodborne illness outbreaks caused by Listeria monocytogenes in dairy products (Oasis fresh curd cheese; Roos raw hard cheese; Crave Brothers pasteurized farmstead cheese; and Frescolina Marte pasteurized ricotta cheese). Before 2012, there have been multiple outbreaks due to raw and pasteurized Mexican-style soft cheeses and in pasteurized milk in 2007.

Dr. Douglass Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Eurofins Microbiology LaboratoriesDr. Douglass Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories , recently spoke about Implementing an effective Listeria control plan for Dairy Products in a recent presentation. He described the pathogen as “a gram-positive bacteria, which is facultatively anaerobic, psychotrophic (can even multiply at refrigeration temperatures – though at slower rates), sensitive to heat processing, even found in healthy cows, raw milk and dairy processing environments, and can survive most cheese ripening processes.”

Though, listeriosis, the infection caused when a person is infected with LM, is relatively rare – only affecting about 1600 individuals a year – it has a high mortality rate, highest among foodborne illnesses, especially among high-risk individuals.

Dr. Marshall listed some of the contributing factors to a LM outbreak:

  • Inadequate thermal processing
  • Refrigeration temperature being too high
  • Inadequate product flow through processing plant
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Product shelf-life too long
  • Inadequate cleaning and sanitation
  • Inadequate environmental monitoring and control
  • Inadequate end product testing

Thermal processing is a time-temperature process, and it can be inadequate if either the temperature is too low, or the process time is too short.

It is common knowledge that whether it’s during transportation, or at retail or at homes, often temperature of food storage is not adequately maintained. Dr. Marshall said that as high as 55 percent of household units and 32 of retail store units had refrigeration temperatures of greater than 9 °C. “And once you get past that temperature threshold of 10 °C, the bacteria reaches maximum population level within six days (average shelf life).”

Inadequate cleaning & sanitation is another major cause for LM contamination and this is often the battle between production & sanitation. Floor drains are a common culprit, responsible for 63 percent incidence of LM. Dr. Marshall also referred to other sources of inoculation that you are not getting effective control of such as filler heads and high pressure water sprays or air sprays, which can aerosolize bacteria and spread the contamination to other surfaces.

Inadequate product flow is usually due to the failure to segregate pasteurized product form raw product or the failure to segregate employees working in raw vs. pasteurized locations. Address this by mapping out product and employee flow (along with equipment) and look for areas where cross contamination can occur, advises Dr. Marshall, who cautions facilities to monitor and control the following direct food contact surfaces that can be cross-contaminated:

  • Fillers
  • Packaging stems
  • Conveyors
  • Chilling solutions
  • Slicers, dicers, shredders, blenders, hoops, molds
  • Collators, assemblers
  • Product movement items, such as racks, bins, tubs and buckets
  • Spiral coolers, blast freezers
  • Hand tools, gloves, aprons

Inadequate personal hygiene is another contributing factor and this can include clothing such as outerwear and gloves. Maintenance personnel should be thorough in their hand-washing and it’s recommended they use alcohol based wipes after hand-washing.

Address the issue of shelf-life being too long by determining the shelf life based on food safety, and not food quality. Also, run LM challenge test in each product, Dr. Marshall advises.

Eurofins-LM-in-Dairy-webinar-March2015

FDA, in their Preventive Controls rule proposed under the Food Safety Modernization Act, has a section on Environmental Monitoring, based on the rationale that that poor control of the environment can lead to LM cross contamination of finished product, explains Dr. Marshall, adding that inadequate environmental monitoring and control is a key component for LM contamination.

“Invest your testing dollars to find hot spots in your facility and ensure the control mechanisms are working every day,” he says, asking companies to “detect and control hot spots, measure effectiveness of general cleaning and sanitation programs, and test for Listeria species.”

Dr. Marshall asks, “If I were LM and wanted to hide, where would that be? Would it be on an easy to clean surface such as the floor, or would it be in a nook or cranny where it’s hard to reach and clean?” He lists the following as areas that commonly harbor the pathogen and advises extra caution and creativity to clean these spots:

  • Equipment framework – nuts, bolts, open tubing, spot welds
  • Floors and drains – standing water
  • Walls
  • Ceilings, overhead equipment, catwalks, pipes
  • Condensate
  • Exposed, wet insulation around pipes and walls
  • Fork lifts, trolleys
  • Cleaning tools – sponges, brushes, scrubbers
  • Maintenance tools
  • Conveyors, belts and rollers (need to be broken down and cleaned regularly)
  • Control panels and switches
  • Rubber seals (especially if they have cracks)
  • Trash cans
  • Air fillers
  • Motor/ pump housings
  • Cracked hoses
  • Ice makers

End product testing is an effective way for testing for LM, but Dr. Marshall points out that there are often arguments against this. “Companies often argue that their HACCP plan is working, their kill step is effective and that they have a history of doing end product testing, and they haven’t had any positive results so far. But this is not a convincing enough argument.” End product testing can address the failure to monitor and control high risk ingredients, and is very useful to detect gross contamination events. It should be used to assess risk of rework, and also test for LM, not just Listeria, Dr. Marshall advises.

Hear more about building an effective control plan for Listeria in your dairy processing environment, by listening to this archived webinar recording, presented by Eurofins.