Effects of Milk Handling on Quality and Hygiene


The environment of production has a great effect on the quality of milk produced. For many reaosns including cow and udder health, food safety and dairy food quality, the production of the highest quality milk (lowest microbial content) should be the goal. Hygienic quality assessment tests include sensory tests, dye reduction tests for microbial activity, total bacterial count (standard plate count), sediment, titratable acidity, somatic cell count, antibiotic residues, and added water.

The two common dye reduction tests are methylene blue and resazurin. These are both synthetic compounds which accept electrons and change colour as a result of this reduction. As part of natural metabolism, active microorganisms transfer electrons, and thus rate at which dyes added to milk are reduced is an indication of the level of microbial activity. Methylene blue turns from blue to colorless, while resazurin turns from blue to violet to pink to colourless. The reduction time is inversely correlated to bacterial numbers. However, different species react differently. Mesophilics are favoured over psychrotrophs, but psychrotrophic organisms tend to be more numerous and active in cooled milk. 


Milk production and distribution in the tropical regions of the world is more challenging due to the requirements for low-temperature for milk stability. Consider the following chart illustraing the numbers of bacteria per millilitre of milk after 24 hours: 

5°C 2,600
10°C 11,600
12.7°C 18,800
15.5°C 180,000
20°C 450,000

Traditionally, this has been overcome in tropical countries by stabilizing milk through means other than refrigeration, including immediate consumption of warm milk after milking, by boiling milk, or by conversion into more stable products such as fermented milks. 

Mastitis and Antibiotics

Mastitis is a bacterial and yeast infection of the udder. Milk from mastitic cows is termed abnormal. Its SNF, especially lactose, content is decreased, while Na and Cl levels are increased, often giving mastitic milk a salty flavour. The presence of mastitis is also accompanied by increases in bacterial numbers, including the possibility of human pathogens, and by a dramatic increase in somatic cells. These are comprised of leukocytes (white blood cells) and epithelial cells from the udder lining. Increased somatic cell counts are therefore indicative of the presence of mastitis. Once the infection reaches the level known as "clinical' mastitis, pus can be observed in the teat canal just prior to milking, but at sub-clinical levels, the presence of mastitis is not obvious. 

Somatic Cell Count (000's/ml) Daily Milk Yield (kg): 1st Lactation
0-17 23.1 29.3
18-34 23.0 28.7
35-70 22.6 28.0
71-140 22.4 27.4
141-282 22.1 27.0
282-565 21.9 26.3
566-1130 21.4 25.4
1131-2262 20.7 24.6
2263-4525 20.0 23.6
>4526 19.0 22.5

Antibiotics are frequently used to control mastitis in dairy cattle. However, the presence of antibiotic residues in milk is very problematic, for at least three reasons. In the production of fermented milks, antibiotic residues can slow or destroy the growth of the fermentation bacteria. From a human health point of view, some people are allergic to specific antibiotics, and their presence in food consumed can have severe consequences. Also, frequent exposure to low level antibiotics can cause microorganisms to become resistant to them, through mutation, so that they are ineffective when needed to fight a human infection. For these reasons, it is extremely important that milk from cows being treated with antibiotics is withheld from the milk supply.

The withdrawal time after final treatment for various antibiotics is shown below (Note: for illustration only, practitioners shoudl consult individual drug therapy recommendations):

Amoxcillin 60 hrs.
Cloxacillin 48 hrs.
Erythromicin 36 hrs.
Novobiocin 72 hrs.
Penicillin 84 hrs.
Sulfadimethozine 60 hrs.
Sulfabromomethozine 96 hrs.
Sulfaethoxypyridozine 72 hrs.

Anti-Microbial Systems in Raw Milk

There exists in milk a number of natural anti-microbial defense mechanisms. These include:

  • lysozyme - an enzyme that hydrolyses glycosidic bonds in gram positive cell walls. However, its effect as a bacteriostatic mechanism in milk is probably negligible.
  • lactoferrin - an iron binding protein that sequesters iron from microorganisms, thus taking away one of their growth factors. Its effect as a bacteriostatic mechanism in milk is also probably negligible.
  • However, lactoperoxidase is significant - an enzyme naturally present in raw milk that catalyzes the conversion of hydrogen peroxide to water. When hydrogen peroxide and thiocyanate are added to raw milk, the thiocyanate is oxidized by the enzyme/ hydrogen peroxide complex producing bacteriostatic compounds that inhibit Gram negative bacteria, E. coli , Salmonella spp., and streptococci. This technique is being used in many parts of the world, especially where refrigeration for raw milk is not readily available, as a means of increasing the shelf life of raw milk. Good sanitation and hygiene practices remain critical to produce good quality milk! See, for example, the commercial product Stabilak, http://www.censa.edu.cu/index.php/2015/12/10/stabilak/?lang=en. This method should only be used in situations when technical, economical and/or practical reasons do not allow the use of cooling facilities for maintaining the quality of raw milk. Use of the LP-system in areas which currently lack an adequate infrastructure for collection of liquid milk, would ensure the production of milk as a safe and wholesome food, which otherwise would be virtually impossible. The method of activating the LP-s in milk is to add about 10 ppm (parts per million) of thiocyanate (preferably in powder form) to the raw milk to increase the overall level to 15 ppm (around 5 ppm is naturally present). The solution is thoroughly mixed for 30 seconds and then an equimolar amount (8.5 ppm) of hydrogen peroxide is added (generally in the form of a granulated sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate). The activation of the lactoperoxidase has a bacteriostatic effect on the raw milk and effectively extends the shelf life of raw milk for 7–8 hours under ambient temperatures of around 30oC or longer at lower temperatures. This allows adequate time for the milk to be transported from the collection point to a processing centre without refrigeration." (Benefits and potential risks of the lactoperoxidase system of raw milk preservation: report of an FAO/WHO technical meeting, FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy, 28 November - 2 December 2005.)