Thinking about where dairy products come from is one of the most confusing farming practices for most shoppers. It’s pretty impressive- milk goes from cows all over the country to every grocery store, all while staying safe, nutritious, and affordable. To shed more light on this incredible process and how it maintains food safety, we talked to Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA. Before becoming a Registered Dietitian, Marianne grew up on a dairy farm in Kentucky. Here, she explains the safety standards for milk, the nutritional benefits of dairy, and what consumers probably don’t realize about where their milk comes from.
Marianne Smith Edge: Today’s dairies are more high-tech. Even though we had pipelines in the late sixties and seventies, today’s dairies are more mechanized in feeding and computer programming. Grade A processors have always required dairies to uphold Grade A standards in order to ship their milk. Routine inspections check both sanitation and quality of the milk. Many consumers are surprised to find out that, if a cow has been treated with antibiotics, producers must discard the milk until the residue is gone. Testing is done on all milk at the time of pickup and delivery at the processing plant. If traces of antibiotics are present, the entire tankard of milk is destroyed and the farmer bears the financial responsibility. To learn more about the milk value chain, check out our infographic on the 7 Steps for milk to go ‘udder to glass!’
FI: What does the FDA say about milk safety?
MSE: The FDA actually just confirmed, once again, the safety of milk and our dairy supply. In a recent report, the FDA said: “These findings provide evidence that the nation’s milk safety system is effective in helping to prevent drug residues of concern in milk, even in those limited instances when medications are needed to maintain the health of dairy cattle.”
FI: What’s one thing that consumers probably don’t know about dairy?
MSE: Despite the size and mechanization of modern dairies, cows are still handled by humans with love and care, similar to the love and care we give our families. The quantity of the milk is determined by the correct amount of feed and proper care being given to the cow. Consumers may not realize that being a dairy farmer is a 24/7 way of life. Dairy cows are milked 2-3 times each day, no matter the weather or if it’s a holiday. Find out more about how and why farmers don’t get snow days.
FI: What are the best nutritional choices families can make about their dairy products?
MSE: Buying low- and no-fat choices are best. You still get dairy’s nutritional benefits, with low or no saturated fat. Milk and dairy provides us with some key “nutrients of concern” (nutrients that most of us don’t get enough of day-to-day): Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Calcium, Potassium, and riboflavin. Getting 3 servings of dairy per day meets your calcium requirements! Try a cup of milk, a yogurt, and 1.5 oz of cheese. Go ahead and enjoy your dairy!