Is your milk safe?

Dr Parvesh Kumar
Milk – nature’s Perfect food. It’s not just for kids, it has something for everyone. Everyone needs milk. But the question is: “How safe is your milk to drink?” How do you like your milk: cooked or raw? The vast majority of milk we drink is pasteurized – heat-treated to kill off harmful pathogens. Raw milk, on the other hand, goes straight from udder to bottle. people call milk as nature intended: nutrient-rich and full of probiotics, the good kind of bacteria. Some people go further, calling it a superfood that aids digestion, boosts the immune system and treats asthma, eczema and allergies. For health-conscious, organic-loving shoppers, raw milk is a growing food fad. Who wouldn’t feel saddened by the thought of heat-blasted, barren milk sitting under supermarket strip-lighting when the alternative is painted as a living food, fresh and full of character? As the industrial revolution evolved and more people moved to cities and away from family farming, storage and transportation of milk products prolonged the time between milking and consumption. Without adequate refrigeration and other controls, diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever and brucellosis sickened and killed many people.
Louis Pasteur, a French chemist working in the 1860s, recognized that bacteria were causing these diseases. He found that heating the milk for a short time could kill the bacteria, making it safer to drink and extending its shelf-life. Over time, different scientists researched various pasteurization processes that would maintain palatability, make the milk safe to drink, and maintain high nutritional content.
India is today the world’s largest producer of milk thanks to the white revolution. Yet more than two thirds of the milk in India does not meet the food safety standards. For a lay person trying to differentiate between contaminated and pure milk is a tall order and only specific chemical tests can reveal the truth. Contaminated milk can be a huge health hazard especially when it has been laced with urea, detergents and other toxic chemicals. With the festival of Holi round the corner, it is time to be alert about the dangers of milk contamination. If you do your own grocery shopping or you’ve been to a supermarket recently, you’d be aware that pasteurized milk has monopolized the dairy section. Having been around since the late 1800s, pasteurized milk has been widely utilized by the population because of the “safety” it provides, as it’s said to minimize the risk of contracting milk-borne bacteria and diseases.
But while this may seem like a plausible idea, pasteurization has been observed to lower or even extinguish the nutrients found in milk. Aside from this, toxins and other harmful chemicals have also been introduced to conventional pasteurized milk, which compromises your health instead of providing a better choice. Some steps which can save milk from being contaminate are:-
The Cow: Before the cow is even milked, pathogens in the surrounding environment can get into the cow’s feed or water. During milking, bacteria on the inside or outside of the cow’s udder can get into the milk. If the milking device (human or mechanical) hasn’t been properly sanitized it may contaminate the raw milk.
Storage and Transfer of Raw Milk: Any time the milk is transferred or stored, all equipment and containers must be sterile to prevent contamination. The storage temperature must be low enough (usually 4 degrees Celsius) to keep any bacteria remaining in the milk from growing.
Pasteurization: We know that pasteurization doesn’t kill all the bacteria in milk, but it won’t even kill the ones it’s supposed to if the guidelines for time and temperature aren’t met. One way the dairy industry checks milk to make sure it has been properly pasteurized is by testing for alkaline phosphatase. This enzyme has the same D-value as the tuberculosis bacterium, so if it’s found in pasteurized milk, that means that time and temperature requirements were not met [source: Sun].
Equipment: Post pasteurization contamination (PPC) because of flaws in equipment or poor sanitation practices is the most common reason for pasteurization failures [source: Lewis]. Equipment has to be properly maintained and tested, and cleaned and sterilized between uses.
The plate heat exchanger is one potential source of PPC, since cold raw milk and hot pasteurized milk pass each other on opposite sides of the heat exchange plates. If the plates have leaks or cracks, the raw milk can contaminate the pasteurized milk.
Storage and Transfer after Pasteurization: Milk is vulnerable to what the industry calls time-temperature abuse whenever the milk is transferred or stored. This includes all points at or between the processing plant, the warehouse, the store and your home. The weak link in the overall cold chain is usually that indeterminate period after [the milk] leaves the retail outlet and reaches the consumer’s refrigerator.
Apart from this, for those who sell their cow’s milk door to door, people who buy should know the medical history of the Cow whose milk they are consuming. And the people who sell milk should have a Vaccination Card containing the details of the medicine, vaccinations of their cow went through.
Now that it’s been brought to your attention, the pressure is on to get the milk home and into the fridge as quickly as possible. Check the temperature of your refrigerator regularly, too. It should always be less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The Indian Government enacted a new food law known as the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. An Act to consolidate the laws relating to food and to establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
The Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 aims to establish a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi-level, multi-departmental control to a single line of command. To this effect, the Act establishes an independent statutory authority – the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India with head office at New Delhi. The Act is implemented through the Food Safety and Standards Regulations. The following are the statutory powers that the FSS Act, 2006 gives to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Framing of regulations to lay down food safety standards
Laying down guidelines for accreditation of laboratories for food testing
Providing scientific advice and technical support to the Central Government
Contributing to the development of international technical standards in food
Collecting and collating data regarding food consumption, contamination, emerging risks etc.
Disseminating information and promoting awareness about food safety and nutrition in India.
(The author is Asstt. Commissioner, Food Safety Jammu)