Milk Quality Goes Beyond SCC
On the farm, somatic cell count (SCC) is the primary indicator of milk quality. Quality premiums are paid on it. Industry standards are set by it. But for processors, SCC is just a start.
“SCC does play a role in determining milk quality but it goes much deeper than just that,” says Goedhart Westers, vice president of business development with Grassland Dairy Products, Inc. As one of the nation’s leading butter producers Westers says they look at many aspects of how milk quality may affect finished goods. One test they rely on is the Direct Microscopic Clump Count (DMCC). Elevated DMCC levels trigger a deeper analysis of the milk and of what is going on at the farm.
When it comes to fluid milk, Jack Jeffers, vice president of quality and consumer affairs at Dean Foods, looks at quality from two perspectives. From a science perspective, a variety of tests help them objectively measure quality from SCC to titratable acidity. “But in the grand scheme, milk quality is making sure that every bottle, carton and cone delivered to a customer is one that meets customer expectations of taste, texture, smell, appearance and safety,” he says. “There is no room for error and the consequences are real.”
Simply put, milk quality hinges solely on maintaining consumer trust. “Our consumers expect us to be not only advocates for milk quality but for the safety and quality of the life of the animals that we depend on to supply our milk,” Westers says.
Consumers have an expectation for a safe, great tasting product with a long shelf life, and because of that, Jeffers says that’s the primary focus for Dean, from the farm to the fridge. “It starts with making sure the cows are being cared for properly and that the farm has practices in place that promote proper use of medicines,” he says.
Aside from the regular practices to keep SCC, standard plate count and other diagnostic tests in check, both Jeffers and Westers say producers should always be thinking about the consumer of their product. For Jeffers, that means checking the boxes on critical areas of your dairy that impact milk quality and that consumers care about:
- Are cows well cared for and do employees treat them well?
- Are medicines used with veterinary oversight and consultation?
- Are accurate records kept?
- Are the right cows milked?
- Is equipment clean and well maintained?
- Is milk at the right temperature at pickup?
If all of these items are in place, Westers says producers can help retail brands by telling consumers their story. “Don’t let an opportunity go to waste to show consumers your dairy and talk to them about how we all try to take care of the cows to produce a high quality, nutritious and healthy food product,” he says.
When it comes to accountability for milk quality, Jeffers says producers should ask themselves everyday: ‘Would I want to put my phone number on this gallon of milk?’