We recently sent our first round of samples to Udder Health Systems in Bellingham, Washington, and had them analyzed for standard plate count (SPC) and total coliforms. Udder Health Systems is a lab that provides milk quality and food testing services for the dairy industry and is one of the few labs in the Pacific Northwest that provides the services we were looking for.
There are many misconceptions about the safety of raw milk and milk testing is quickly becoming the standard among professionals in the industry looking to document and promote the safety of properly collected raw milk. While not mandatory for our herdshare, we feel that testing is important to confirm both for ourselves and our herdshare members that our operating procedures are effective.
Analyzing samples for SPC and total coliforms from the milk is the most commonly accepted method of basic raw milk testing. Standard Plate Count, also known as bacterial plate count, is an indication of the level of microorganisms present in the milk. SPC is an important test to run because the contributing organisms can either come from the udder, from contamination during milking, or anywhere along the milk path. A low count is an indication of good general sanitation, udder health, and proper chilling of the milk.
Total coliform testing, however, focuses on one type of bacteria, coliforms, of which E. coli is a member of. In addition to serving as an indicator of milk quality and food safety, this laboratory test also conveys information about the cleanliness of the milk harvesting process. A healthy goat with a healthy udder should not have coliforms present in the milk. Coliforms are normal bacteria of the mammalian gastro-intestinal tract, and have the potential to enter the milk path through fecal contamination during the milking process, either by accidental intake of fecal material while milking or inadequate cleaning of the udder or teat. Since the microorganisms we are testing for tend to form colonies as they multiply, both SPC and Total Coliforms are measured in colony forming units (CFU/ml).
While the state of Oregon does not currently have standards for raw milk, Washington and California do. In Washington the legal limits are <20,000 CFU/ml for SPC and <10 CFU/ml for coliforms, while in California the legal limits are <15,000 CFU/ml for SPC and <10 CFU/ml for coliforms.
So how did we do? Our result for Standard Plate Count was 300 CFU/ml, while our result for Total Coliforms was Non Detectable in the sample. We are very pleased with these results as they show what we’ve known all along- that we are producing healthy raw milk with very little, if any, contamination at any point in the milking process. We feel this highlights the rigor of our sanitizing, milking and chilling procedures and the benefits of pasturing our goats 100% of the time and moving them to a new paddock daily.
Now that we know the quality of our milk, how do we stack up against other raw milk producers? Champoeg Dairy, based in St. Paul, Oregon, is listed through the the Raw Milk Institute, and is vocal in their support for safe raw milk production. Their results for April of 2015 was 16 CFU/ml for SPC and Non Detectable in the sample for Total Coliforms. Their highest listed result for SPC was 220 CFU/ml and 2 CFU/ml for Total Coliforms. Kid Creek Pastures, based in Mount Shasta, California, is also listed through the Raw Milk Institute. Their results for February of 2015 was 40 CFU/ml for SPC and <1 CFU/ml for Total Coliforms. Their highest listed result for SPC was 450 CFU/ml and 4 CFU/ml for Total Coliforms. These results show that we compare favorably with fellow raw milk producers.
Having one set of favorable results is just the beginning. We have committed to testing our milk once per month and will be posting these results monthly on this site. These results will be listed under our Raw Milk Safety and Test Results tab.
We still have a few spots available in our herdshare. To learn more about our herdshare and how to join, visit our Dairy Goat Herdshare tab.