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Thoughts on Biosecurity and Milk Handling

What is biosecurity? There are many definitions for this term because it encompasses a very broad area. To keep the definition simple, it may be helpful to dissect the word. “Bio” means life, so in essence, biosecurity is “security for life”. Biosecurity is essentially risk management. In the context of the dairy industry, it most often refers to those measures taken to keep problem agents out of a dairy herd or a dairy processing or handling facility. These problem agents can range from disease causing organisms to foreign material found where it should not be.

In recent months, biosecurity has become a major “buzz word” in agriculture. Primarily, two major yet unrelated events brought forth the increased focus towards this area. First, foot and mouth disease spread throughout Great Britain, causing devastation to their agricultural and food production industries. It will take a considerable amount of time for Great Britain and this region to fully recover from this disease outbreak. During the foot and mouth disease outbreak and subsequent recovery period, U.S. producer and industry groups, as well as local, state and federal agencies improved our ability to respond to such an occurrence.

Biosecurity plans evolved to take into account new potential threats after the unthinkable terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001. Everyone involved in the production of food, from the producer to the retail outlet, now must consider the potential of a deliberate disruption to our nation’s food supply system.

How does biosecurity affect the milk hauler?

Biosecurity is implemented at many levels in the dairy industry. Individual producers, cooperatives, processors and hauling companies may have specific policies with varying degrees of strictness. Currently, there are limited regulatory requirements concerning biosecurity measures. However, that may change in the future. We need to keep in mind that we are all partners in today’s modern dairy industry. As partners, we should strengthen our efforts to be aware of each other’s biosecurity requirements and suggestions. This is particularly true for milk haulers because you are the link between all of the dairy groups.

The concepts covered within this article are briefly summarized and should not be interpreted as requirements. Biosecurity within the dairy industry affects all of us. It is being addressed due to everyone’s high level of concern for biosecurity and the far-reaching impact that it has on our daily activities.

Biological Biosecurity

The primary concern relating to biological biosecurity is prevention of the spread of disease or disease causing agents from farm to farm or from farm to processor. Let’s first determine if you can make a bio-secure farm visit. Have you:

  • Traveled outside North America?
  • Been on a farm with a known disease outbreak?
  • Had direct contact with livestock on your own farm?

Recent travel to a foreign country with a known disease outbreak will cause you to be restricted from farm visits for a specified time period. Port of entry officials should inform you of this time period when you return to the U.S. If you have been on a farm with a known disease, special precautions should be taken to ensure the disease is not spread to other farms. This may include limiting farms visits altogether for a certain time period and will likely include a minimum of washing and sanitizing your clothing and any equipment (including your vehicle) that you may have taken onto the farm in question. Likewise, if you own livestock, you shouldn’t have direct contact with livestock prior to your farm visits. Apply similar precautions to your own farm. You do not want to put your own operation at risk when you return home at the end of a day’s work.

Farm visitors are categorized as low, moderate or high-risk visitors. A good example of a low risk visitor is an urban person who has not had contact with livestock. Moderate risk visitors include salespersons or other folks who make frequent farm visits without having direct contact with livestock. High-risk visitors are individuals who have direct contact with animals. The high-risk group could include veterinarians, A.I. technicians and livestock haulers. Milk haulers typically fall into the moderate risk category.

As a milk hauler, you should take the necessary precautions to ensure that you do not elevate your risk potential from a moderate to a high-risk visitor. Some basic precautions you can take when you haul milk include:

  • Always wear clean clothing
  • Always clean and sanitize dirty or manure laden footwear (disposable boot covers may need to be considered)
  • Always walk directly from the truck to the milk house (no unnecessary travel around the barn lot)
  • Always wash your hands prior to each milk pick-up (remember, this is required!)
  • Always operate a clean milk transport truck and park it in the appropriate location (avoid driving through manure laden areas when possible)
  • Never take food products onto the farm (many types of foods may contain animal derivatives).

When delivering milk to processors, limit your travel to approved areas. Most haulers have been on a number of farms when they deliver milk to processors. Because of this, the areas where you are allowed to travel may be different than for others who have not been on a farm. Remember, the plant’s goal is to keep potential problem causing organisms from entering the facility. Good hygiene that includes clean clothing, footwear, equipment and a clean transport vehicle are the basics for doing your part to ensure sanitary conditions at the plant.

Milk Tanker Security

Most processors and cooperatives now have “tanker seal” policies in effect to reduce the risk of deliberate contamination of milk. In general, the procedures outlined in these policies require that after washing and sanitizing, tanker openings are to be sealed with an identifiable, numbered seal and that seal numbers be recorded and traced to prevent the tanker and its contents from being tampered with. The seal numbers are usually recorded on the milk weight ticket (manifest), wash tag or both. Whenever seals are broken for legitimate purposes such as making farm pick-ups or obtaining tanker load samples, broken seals are kept and replacement seal numbers are properly recorded. Most policies require an extensive investigation when a load of milk is delivered with missing, broken or improperly recorded seals.

A tanker seal is only one tool that can be used to protect your truck and its contents from vandalism. Always be sure to take reasonable measures to ensure your equipment is secure when it is left unattended. Frequently re-evaluate your procedures and keep them current with your daily activities.

Make it a priority.

All states require milk haulers to be licensed or permitted by some method. In Kentucky, haulers are required to be licensed by Regulatory Services and permitted by the Milk Safety Branch. As a bulk milk hauler, you are required to adhere to certain licensing and permitting requirements to ensure that milk is properly handled, sampled, and transported as a food product and so that accurate payment can be made for milk. As a partner in the dairy industry, you have an obligation to put forth the necessary effort to minimize potential dairy biosecurity risks. Producers, processors and consumers have high expectations for their biosecurity interests. When it comes to “security for life”, high expectations are reasonable. Make sound, practical, bio-secure hauling procedures a part of your daily routine.