Is milk safe in your refrigerator? Does the old expression "safe as milk"
still hold true today? Is somebody keeping an eye on our dairy products?
Dairy inspectors have several important goals. One is to help ensure that
milk is being produced in the first place. That might sound obvious, but there
are many problems involved in an industry that relies on nature.
Dairy inspectors assist farmers in several important ways. They can help
take samples from cows. Then they send the samples to suitable laboratories
to have them checked.
Dairy inspector Susan Kernatz says that having good people skills and good
interpersonal skills is very important to being an inspector.
"There's a lot of liaison work involved in being a dairy inspector," says
Kernatz. Explaining government regulations can take patience and understanding.
Equipment used in a modern dairy needs to be checked regularly. An inspector
must be familiar with all the equipment and be able to offer advice and information
to the farmer.
The inspector must also make sure that the milk being produced tastes good.
Sometimes people will be brought together to form a taste-testing panel to
find out if milk tastes good or bad or just funny.
Inspectors must be alert to various pollutants in milk. These can range
from bacteria to inhibitors (such as antibiotics) to extra water added by
an unscrupulous dairy farmer.
Kernatz says her job has two parts. She has government regulations to enforce,
and she also does extension work. That means Kernatz helps farmers analyze
their milking equipment or the product itself.
Kernatz also trains bulk milk haulers in the safe handling of the product.
She checks to make sure the milk in hauling trucks is safe. If there's even
the tiniest amount of an antibiotic found in a truckload, the whole batch
Robert Bradley is a professor of food sciences. He says inspectors check
dairy equipment for compliance with regulations. They must be familiar with
the operation of pasteurization equipment.
"The job entails checking and validating pasteurization equipment and its
operation. Inspectors also collect samples from plants and stores for regular
analysis," says Bradley. "And they do spot checks in stores or in certain
areas where there might be problems."
As far as policing the quality of a state's dairy products, Kernatz points
out that inspectors don't determine the penalties.
"But if we get a call, we will go out, check the farm and put a stop-hold
on that farm's milk until it's tested and made safe," she says. "The milk
is not picked up until we are assured that the quality we demand is there."
Every state has different fines and penalties. Where Kernatz lives, for
example, milk producers can be charged an overall penalty by month, and also
for every day that the problem isn't corrected. Violators are charged per
200 gallons of milk, which can really add up on a large farm.
If dairy farmers aren't allowed to sell their milk, they aren't taking
any money in to pay daily expenses. So it pays to make sure they never get
into a bad situation.
Kernatz is quick to point out, though, that she has seen very few deliberate
violations in the dairy industry. "Ninety-nine percent or more are very conscientious."