Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Adding Bacteria to Pasteurized Milk

Adding bacteria to pasteurized milk? Yep! Technically, we call this post-pasteurization contamination.

"No," you say. "Why would anyone do that?"

A quick case study. A couple of  years ago I was on a large dairy in China. All the young calves had diarrhea. The dairy had its own lab and could do bacteria counts on colostrum and milk. 

We sampled "as-fed" colostrum, raw milk, milk directly from the pasteurizer and "as-fed" pasteurized milk.

1. Colostrum - fair results, most samples had coliform counts under 5,000cfu/ml and total plate counts in the 25,000 - 35,000cfu/ml range.

2. Raw milk - all under 200,000cfu/ml - that's acceptable for milk going into a pasteurizer.

3. Milk from pasteurizer outlet - all samples under 1,000cfu/ml.

4. "As-fed" pasteurized milk - all samples over 5,000cfu/ml coliforms with total plate counts in the 100,000's.

Ooooops! Clean coming out of the pasteurizer but badly contaminated in the pail for the calf to drink? Not good. 

Culprits?  All the usual suspects.
A. Hose between pasteurizer and transport tank - it was not part of the wash cycle at any time. It turned out to be full of slime. Solution #1 - replace hose. Solution #2 - install a couple of fittings in the pasteurizer plumbing so that when the pasteurizer was washed this hose was also cleaned. 

B. Bottom and sides of the transport tank were spotless - shiny clean. By leaning into the tank I could run my fingers along the underside of the tank top. Ugh! The energetic worker cleaned what she could see - unfortunately neglecting about 1/3 of the tank surface - the upper invisible part.

C. Feeding pails. The dairy had between 900 and 1,000 calves on milk. They had 200 metal feeding pails that were washed between each feeding. So, the first 200 calves got a clean pail, the next 200 calves used a pail that had been use once, and so on. 

A sterile-water rinse sample from a "clean" pail grew a huge crop of bacteria - mostly Staph and Strep species. Problem? Wash protocol needed to be tuned up. They ran one huge sink of lukewarm water, added lots of detergent and all 200 pails were washed in this water (no pre-wash rinsing so lots of milk ended up in this water. The water started out about 100F). 

The end result of this wash routine was a biofilm on the pails that supported extensive bacteria populations. We changed the routine to:
1. pre-wash rinse with lukewarm water
2. wash in hot chlorinated solution with detergent with lots of brushing - they used chemicals from the milking parlor - we made a little float with a piece of styrofoam and stuck a rapid read thermometer in it to monitor wash water temperature - they just added 180F water as needed to keep temperature around 130F.
3. Using parlor wash acid do a post-wash rinse and then set upside down to dry on rolling racks in the utility room. 

I just received an e-mail from this dairy manager. He says they are continuing to monitor raw, pasteurized and "as-fed" milk. Results are well below the thresholds we set when I was at the farm. Along with a good colostrum management program and a coccidiosis control program this milk feeding program is producing healthier calves than before the improvements were adopted.

So, it really is not difficult to add bacteria to pasteurized milk. One must be quite diligent to avoid post-pasteurization contamination.

Best of luck with your calves. 

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