Reducing the danger of raw milk

From Marsha Johnston, on The Modern Farmer:

Erwin Shank, of The Family Cow, in his bottling plant

“Since establishing a risk assessment management plan and an on-farm raw milk hygiene testing lab after a campylobacter outbreak in early 2012, raw milk from The Family Cow in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is cleaner than pasteurized, says owner Edwin Shank. “We are doing what I call test and hold. We test every lot of bottles and hold them in the cooler until the test results are finished. Pasteurized milk has no regulation that requires you to hold it back until the test result is in. As raw milk producers, we are considered guilty until proved innocent, so we have to go over and beyond what is expected,” he says, adding that it is quite normal for his coliform counts to be zero or 1 per milliliter.

Pennsylvania, where raw milk is just another roadside attraction.

Shank worked with local Penn State University and state agriculture experts to develop the lab, adding that it costs approximately $1,000 to set up and between $5 to $10 for supplies to test each time he bottles milk. “If a dairyman asked me to mentor him, the first thing I would ask is if he were prepared to invest in a testing lab. If he said no, I would not agree,” Shank said.

Some other leading-edge technologies will further facilitate immediate testing that could allow raw milk to achieve virtually zero risk. Eighteen months ago, Ontario-based Dairy Quality Inc. introduced mpengo Dairy, a software application and testing kit that turns an iPhone 4 or 5 into a 600-power microscope that instantly measures a milk sample’s somatic cell count.

Since she invested $2,000 for the terminal and software, Alice Jongerden, of British Columbia-based Home on the Range Farm, no longer has to drive to the lab to drop off and pick up a milk sample for $52 per cow test. Instead, she can test on site for $4 and store the data record for each cow….”

More on The Modern Farmer.

Pennsylvania raw milk farmer Erwin Shank, on the loading dock, with customers’ coolers.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Reducing the danger of raw milk

  1. Personally I prefer NO TESTING of my milk. I get it where the farm does it’s best to keep a clean environment and that is good enough for me. Testing results in:
    1.) Higher cost for me the consumer.
    2.) Higher cost for the farmer that is not making much anyhow, and could drive them of of selling to consumers.
    3.) Gives the psychopaths in power the idea to make it mandatory, and that my rights come from them.

    Thanks but no thanks. As things stand now, I would go out of my way to support a farmer that does not test.

    • Roger Bird

      InalienableWrights, I understand exactly how you feel. However, I believe that testing is necessary MOSTLY because we raw milk advocates are under a microscope to be pure as the driven snow at the South Pole. Decades from now it may seem to society and the authorities that such severe scrutiny is silly, but for now, it is necessary.

    • sundancer55

      Yes, however did we survive without all this testing and bowing and scraping to the gubmint?

      It’s just plain nuts to stress to that degree about a product like raw milk. If things are done right in the barn (and anyone should be able to see if it is or it isn’t) there is no need to test every blessed thing to death. If you’re going to go through all that, you might as well save yourself the stress and pasteurize if you think it makes things any safer because essentially all farmers do with all this huckumpuckey is satisfy an unworkable gubmint agency who doesn’t even know what they’re doing. Cowshares or herdshares would be easier, by far.

    • Right on Inalienable, all the testing in the world won’t prevent an outbreak if the food being blamed is not really the cause in the first place.

  2. Shawna

    Inalienable, it is certainly your perogative to support the farming practices of your choice. That is the wonderful thing about buying (or not buying) directly from your farmer. With full transparency, you can vote with your dollars for the practices you support.

    That said, I think you may be ignorant to the benefits that milk testing brings for the farmer. As a raw milk farmer myself, milk testing is a huge boon to me because it gives me insight into the microbiology of my milk on a regular basis. It gives me feedback about santitation, udder health, and even flavor and expected shelf-life. And while it cannot guarantee safety, low overall bacteria levels is an indicator of good sanitation and by that, reduced-risk that pathogens may be present.

    In order to acheive those results, I have to be on my game as a farmer. I have to keep a very healthy herd of cows, clean farm conditions (lots of green grass is a big part), and practices consistent, intentional milking procedures.

    As for the cost, it is so minimal. An on farm coliform test costs about $1. The same test at a lab costs about $5. Farmers who are implementing regular testing protocol, like Edwin Shank, Sally Fallon, and others are leading the way in production innovations that increase quality and safety for raw milk farmers of all sizes.

    To discourage a farmer from implementing good practices or innovations because the those practices might become mantatory just doesn’t follow. Its like saying that in states without seatbelt laws its best not to wear a seatbelt, for fear it could become mandatory.

    When free people govern themselves well and responsibly, there is less need for the governement to rule them. Local, transparent farms and their customers should be leading the way in the area of good practices and brilliant innovations. We should have nothing to hide, as we answer directly to our customers, unlike our big corporate counterparts that operate behind thick walls.

    My encouragement for the raw milk consumer–if your farmer tests their milk, thank them! If they don’t, ask them to consider doing so voluntarily. It is a practice that raw milk consumers would do well to support.

    • Shawna, seat belts obviously save lives. The same can not be said for these tests. Working class families who are already spending $200 a month on raw milk can’t afford to quadruple that on useless testing. What we need is more than one raw milk supplier. I’m just thankful that I can even get raw milk. It is the state’s intention to keep this life giving food out of the hands of the general public. You don’t have to ban it if you can increase the price by a factor of ten.

  3. BCFoodSecurity

    A great idea. A good organic farmer already intuitively knows his herd like his family but this can serve to finetune and hone is his/her intuition further. Nothing against outside labs but this is low cost and spontaneous with more of a feedback loop as the farmer likely knows what subjective inputs may or may not be contributing to high or low readings.
    One could argue that technology has finally found its proper place in service to food safety , food security and the community rather than being monopolized by some government or lab.
    2. Another point not mentioned is how hard it is for raw dairy farmers in some states to even find insurance let alone low cost insurance . This can only lower costs of business insurance and allow more insurance companies to get on board with greater and varied products and services. Seems like an all round win-win to some of us.
    3. Lastly , here is another related controversial idea . If an IPAD 4 or 5 can be used to test for high somatic cell counts and coliform in cow’s milk then some day ordinary people will have access to related technology to easily test themselves . Already people self-test for high insulin levels but this can be expanded much further. The sky just may be the limit. Certainly this could serve to lower overall health care and insurance costs as well.

  4. These tests are great for people who only use raw milk to put in their coffee but it is important to keep in mind that all the testing in the world won’t prevent an outbreak if the food being blamed is not really the cause in the first place. Why do we fall for their propaganda? They use the words “associated with” rather than “caused by” because they have no intention to even try and determine the actual cause.

    According to these 2 US government studies raw milk actually has a negative risk factor.

    1. An estimated 17.3% of raw milk consumers in Minnesota may have acquired an illness caused by 1 of these enteric pathogens during the 10-year study period. (That’s 1.7% per year.) or (1 in 59)

    wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/20/1/pdfs/12-0920.pdf

    2. About 48 million people (That’s 15% per year or 1 in 6 Americans) get sick and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101215.html

    When you look at these 2 studies you can see that the US Center for Disease Control has inadvertently demonstrated that people who don’t drink raw milk are 9 times more likely to contract a so called foodborne illness than people that do. In other words raw milk prevents 1.3 million cases of foodborne disease and 90 deaths every year in the US. That’s better than a “zero risk”. That’s a negative risk factor.

  5. Of all the truly innovative and interesting aspects of farming, nutrition, and health, how silly is it to spend all our time talking about ubiquitous bacteria? Most if not all of them are part of our normal flora. They are in the air and on everything we touch.

    We pass down the the bacteria in our bodies the same way we pass down our own genes. They are an essential part of our immune system that we destroy with antibiotics, birth control, and other drugs.

  6. Where are the tests comparing health when deprived of raw milk ?

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