Bottle Management and Cleaning
Risk Category 9
This is part of an 11 category program to help farmers learn to identify and manage the unique risks on their farm. This may help them to grow a food safety mindset, that may enable them to write their own food safety plans for the production of raw drinking milk. In Australia raw milk from cows for human consumption, is only allowed if you own the animal, but that doesn't stop farmers from becoming acquainted with practises that are delivery great results overseas. Farmers may need to read the introduction first before continuing on this page: Introduction to the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program
Hygiene in the bottling area is very important and dairy farmers who already process and bottle their own milk will have an advantage here. It is important to remember that the Milking area and the Bottling room work best if they are two different and separate areas. The Bottling room, which may contain the milk tank as well, can also be considered the milk processing plant. The two areas (milking and bottling rooms) are cleaned, sanitised and managed in very different ways. The activities and equipment used in each area must be kept to their own area to minimise contamination. Dirt/manure on shoes, clothing or equipment can be transferred from one area to another. Foot traffic between each area must be reduced and managed. This is very useful for larger operations which have to be more proactive. It is best for the bottling room /processing area not to be used as a thoroughfare to other regions. It should not be used as a multi-purpose room. It is best to build separate rooms to serve as an office, a tearoom or other areas to be allotted for veterinarians or artificial insemination technicians to use.
It is also important to remember not to take equipment from the bottling room and use it outside of the bottling room. Put a laminated sign on the door to remind staff, for example: 'do not remove or use bottling room equipment outside of this room'.
All staff should receive proper training in food hygiene, health risks and the use of equipment. Instructions on how to use specialised equipment can also be put in the Standard Operating Procedure document.
Design and use of the bottling room
This area is best built as a separate room with internal walls and ceilings, away from the milking area. It is a good risk reduction strategy that there be rules and conditions of entry before entering this area from the milking area. Different clean gear is worn in this area to minimise contamination. Working surfaces should be easy to clean, and this is where stainless steel surfaces are a benefit. Keep your bottling process in mind when setting up the work areas. If there are storage shelves made out of wood they should not be bare or untreated because bacteria can accumulate on the surface. Light coloured walls make it easier to see dirty spots. A fly screen can help with ventilation and keep flies out.
The bulk tank can be designed in such a way as to prevent pests from entering it at the top. If you install cabinets, make sure they are not fitted directly to the floor. You need to be able to comfortably clean underneath them in case there is a spill. Identify risks like these before you build your bottling room.
In addition to a separate milking area and bottling room, you may need to build another room for the retail sale of the milk. This room will house the refrigerator where milk is kept before sale. Milk should not be sold from the bottling room because of the risk of contamination and the chance of staff being frequently distracted from their work. If the bottling room connects to the retail space, it is best to put up a sign saying 'no public beyond this point' or even 'do not disturb during working hours'.
Cleaning of the bottling room
It is a good risk reduction strategy to create a routine for scrubbing the floor, working areas and walls of the bottling room with some frequency. Add it to your Standard Operating Procedure document or your calendar to ensure this action is taken with some regularity.
Filtering and cooling
All the milk is best filtered before reaching the bulk milk tank. It should also be cooled as soon as possible. If milk is not cooled rapidly after milking, it will result in milk behaving as it does: it will begin the process of culturing and will result in a milk with less than desirable shelf life.
In a micro-dairy, mobile milking units are often used and the filtering and cooling of milk are done a little differently than the pipeline system with its in-line cooling plate/s. A large tub of ice water filled with ice cubes is kept on hand to submerge the lidded milk bottles in (see example). This slows down the bacterial action. Remember not to fill the tub so that it submerges the lid of milk bottles, because if there is bacteria in the water, it can contaminate the lid, or even get into the milk. You may want to put chlorine in the ice tub as well. Keep in mind that a 1 litre bottle of milk is going to cool in the ice bath much faster than a 2 litre bottle or a bucket of milk. If you do not keep these things in mind you may find that your 1 litre bottles have a longer shelf life than the 2 litre ones. This can be seen as a risk, because consumers want long shelf life and may recognise the difference and complain about your procedures. Consumers notice these things.
Make sure the ice bath is replenished with ice cubes from the freezer when they start to get smaller. You may need to keep a thermometer in the ice bath to ensure temperature stays under 4'C. You can also put this procedure in your SOP if you are concerned that staff may neglect the level of care. Keeping the cold chain consistent makes a BIG difference in milk's longevity. Effective cooling has to be monitored. When this is taken care of, good quality, unopened raw milk can have a shelf life of two to three weeks without showing signs of souring.
The following experiment can be very useful. Put a 1 litre and a 2 litre milk bottle with the others in the ice bath. Measure the temperature and leave the thermometer in. This way you can monitor the difference in the time it takes for each bottle to reach the desired temperature. Mark McAfee says that the time it takes for appropriate cooling between two different bottle sizes can be two and a half times longer. A small in-diameter jar is going to cool quicker than a large in-diameter jar.
Requirements for the production of raw milk cheese in Australia require that the milk be cooled to 6°C within 2 hours of milking, then 5°C. See this Dairy Food Safety Victoria document, then under the dairy farmers category click on DFSV checklist. Rapidly chilling milk and keeping it under 4'C during the production of raw drinking milk is best though.
Proper cleaning and sanitising
Water available should be hot and cold, not somewhere in between. Certain cleaning solutions and processes require hot water and others cold water. Having only warm water may be a risk to the cleaning of specific equipment and therefore a risk to the operation. Also make sure that you have adequate hot water for the entire daily operation from start to finish.
The bulk of the sanitising and cleaning liquids should be stored in an area that limits exposure to heat. If these are stored in a shed where heat waves can cause them to lose their potency, you can be sure to run into some significant issues down the line. Surprisingly, this is a common issue. The farmer may suddenly experience a huge shock when he/she discovers high bacterial numbers the milk. It can be complicated to pinpoint the source of the problem as well. Mark McAfee from the Raw Milk Institute and other dairy farmers have many interesting stories about their encounter with this common problem. Chlorine used to clean the pipeline milking system in the milking area is particularly vulnerable to this scenario. You can avoid sleepless nights, contamination of your equipment and possible incidence of illness by being smart and taking your precautions. This risk can be mitigated by building a dedicated storage area where the bulk of the cleaning and disinfecting agents can be kept at a steady temperature. A laminated warning sign can be stuck on the door for employees to take note of. You can also add the routine checking of expiry dates of cleaning agents on your Standard Operating Procedure. Better safe than sorry. Check and then stick to use-by dates because we need these cleaning agents to clean, sanitise and kill bacteria properly.
Another risk that can be avoided by merely being aware of it is cleaning equipment. Cleaning cloths, mops and brooms can be sanitised between use. Be careful of using sponges because research shows that even after disinfection they can still carry unwanted bacteria. Sponges are a recognised risk. This can be added to the Standard Operating Procedure document as well. The Raw Milk Producers Association UK has recently published some great material from Jayne Hickenbotham's talk on microbiology. One of the documents identified how useful it can be to have colour coded buckets and other utensils to ensure that utensils typically used in a particular room are never taken away and used elsewhere where it can become contaminated. In other words: it can be useful to have different coloured buckets for the bottling room and the milking area. This is another great way to manage risk.
Dishwasher and sanitiser
If you use glass bottles with a dishwasher and sanitiser, make sure it sanitises to the proper temperature for the required amount of time. Shortcuts can result in expensive mistakes. Keep a short list of contact details of technicians in your RAMP as a risk reduction strategy in case equipment fails. If your sanitiser is faulty and you run out of clean bottles it's going to create some real problems. How can you better mitigate this potential risk? If your operation is large enough, invest in two sanitisers or keep a spare if you can.
If you wash and sanitise bottles differently, do your research and make sure that you are using the suitable cleaning agent and an appropriate temperature in the oven etc.
Most of the standard procedures for handling and bottling pasteurised milk can be applied to RDM as well. That is why they will not be discussed in detail here. Pasteurised milk is very vulnerable to post-pasteurisation contamination and those farmers are required to have a detailed risk management process. The food safety precautions are very high in Australia. RDM from cows fed grass and hay however, has its own protective systems to protect the milk from pathogen contamination to a degree, more here. This however does not mean that careful processing procedures can be neglected. Food safety first.