DAIRY REGULATION IN THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Kurt Nieminen, Bureau of Regulatory Services
For a small state, Connecticut’s dairy industry contributes substantially to the state’s economy.
According to the most recent Economic Impacts of Connecticut’s Agricultural Industry, Update 2015, released by UConn’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy, Connecticut’s dairy manufacturing industry including fluid milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream contributes more than $1 billion annually to the state’s economy.
In this same report, the sale of dairy cattle and milk from the Connecticut farms contributed another $120 million.
During the ten-year period between 2007 and 2017, milk production in Connecticut increased by 67 million pounds per year, or 19 percent. Currently there are a total of 108 operating dairy farms in Connecticut. These farms include cattle, goat, and sheep milk producers.
The mission of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg)’s milk safety program in the Bureau of Regulatory Services is to ensure Connecticut consumers have a safe and wholesome supply of milk and milk products.
To fulfill this mission, DoAg works to ensure appropriate statutes and regulations are applied uniformly to the entire milk industry through a team of professional sanitarians. Entities regulated by the DoAg include producer dairies, milk processing plants, cheese manufacturers, and retail raw milk producers.
Connecticut’s dairy regulations closely follow the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) used in all 50 states and the territories for the production and processing of Grade A milk.
The regulations in the PMO are developed through a cooperative program that includes the states, industry, and the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additional state regulations cover the production and sale of retail raw milk.
Connecticut’s inspection program starts at the farm with the cow. The first thing needed for safe and wholesome milk is a healthy cow. Once the cow is milked, that milk must be handled in a manner that ensures its quality and cleanliness.
Agricultural inspectors routinely perform inspections on the farm to check that the milk handling equipment is clean and up to the task of keeping the milk safe.
It is important that the milk is stored in a clean storage tank and kept at an optimal temperature of 35 - 40 degrees F until it can be transported to a dairy processing facility.
Inspectors also check the water on the farm used to wash equipment, to ensure it comes from an approved source and meets potable water standards.
Another key component of a dairy farm inspection program is the storage and labeling of antimicrobials used to treat sick cattle.
Regulations require antimicrobial drugs be used according to label and veterinary directions, and that the milk from treated animals be withheld until the drug clears from the animal’s system. All milk is tested for the presence of antimicrobials before it enters a dairy processing facility.
Raw milk is also tested for its quality or Standard Plate Count (SPC) as well as somatic cells. The SPC test is used indicate possible cooling or equipment cleanliness issues somewhere in the milking process. The somatic cell test is an indicator of the health of the dairy herd. If either of these tests are above regulatory standards, inspectors perform follow-up investigations.
The sale of retail raw milk, and raw milk cheese manufactured from retail raw milk, is legal in Connecticut. Due to the risks associated with raw milk, the producing farms and manufacturing facilities must meet stricter product quality standards.
DoAg inspectors are also responsible for inspecting dairy and cheese manufacturing plants in Connecticut. Connecticut has large corporate owned facilities as well as smaller farmstead processing facilities.
Manufacturing/processing facilities are inspected quarterly. In addition to the PMO, many of these facilities also have to comply with the Preventive Controls rules of the federal Food, Safety and Modernization act (FSMA). These rules include a having a food safety plan for the facility and certain record keeping requirements.
DoAg has been working with the UConn Cooperative Extension system to provide Preventive Controls qualified individual training.
Even if a facility is “exempt” by having less than $1,000,000 per year in sales of all food, DoAg encourages all milk processors and cheese manufacturers to attend the training.
The FDA has begun inspecting these exempt facilities (Grade A milk and milk products, non-Grade A milk and milk products, and manufactured products) for compliance with FSMA’s current good manufacturing practices rule and preventive controls rule.
Dairy processing primarily relies on pasteurization to ensure the safety of milk and milk products. Pasteurization is a process that destroys harmful bacteria by heating the milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time.
Depending on the product and type of pasteurizer being used, there are standards for both the temperature and amount of time that milk is pasteurized in order for it to be deemed safe.
Inspections of milk processors and cheese manufacturers includes periodic verification of process controls. Inspectors must receive specialized training to verify that pasteurization equipment is properly designed and functioning.
DoAg inspectors also obtain finished product samples from each dairy plant monthly. Testing is conducted at the Connecticut Department of Public Health laboratory in Rocky Hill.
Connecticut dairy farmers strive to produce wholesome milk and milk products that you and your family can feel good about eating.
The regulations concerning the production and processing of milk and milk products in the U.S. are some of the strictest in the industrialized world. The overwhelming evidence is that the milk and milk products produced and processed in the U.S. are the safest in the world.
We can and should be proud of what we have accomplished together as farmers, processors, and government agencies; all working together to ensure the milk you drink and supply to the country is safe and of the highest quality.