Microorganisms in Milk

 Milk is sterile at secretion in the udder but is contaminated by bacteria even before it leaves the udder. Except in the case of mastisis, the bacteria at this point are harmless and few in number. Further infection of the milk by microorganisms can take place during milking, handling, storage, and other pre-processing activities.

Lactic acid bacteria: this group of bacteria are able to ferment lactose to lactic acid. They are normally present in the milk and are also used as starter cultures in the production of cultured dairy products such as yogurt. Note: many lactic acid bacteria have recently been reclassified; the older names will appear in brackets as you will still find the older names used for convenience sake in a lot of literature. Some examples in milk are:

  • lactococci
    • L. delbrueckii subsp. lactis (Streptococcus lactis )
    • Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris (Streptococcus cremoris )
  • lactobacilli
    • Lactobacillus casei
    • L.delbrueckii subsp. lactis (L. lactis )
    • L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
    • (Lactobacillus bulgaricus )

  • Leuconostoc

Coliforms: coliforms are facultative anaerobes with an optimum growth at 37° C. Coliforms are indicator organisms; they are closely associated with the presence of pathogens but not necessarily pathogenic themselves. They also can cause rapid spoilage of milk because they are able to ferment lactose with the production of acid and gas, and are able to degrade milk proteins. They are killed by HTST treatment, therefore, their presence after treatment is indicative of contamination.Escherichia coli is an example belonging to this group.

Significance of microorganisms in milk:

  • Information on the microbial content of milk can be used to judge its sanitary quality and the conditions of production
  • If permitted to multiply, bacteria in milk can cause spoilage of the product
  • Milk is potentially susceptible to contamination with pathogenic microorganisms. Precautions must be taken to minimize this possibility and to destroy pathogens that may gain entrance
  • Certain microorganisms produce chemical changes that are desirable in the production of dairy products such as cheese, yogurt.
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