The B.C. Fresh Milk (BCFM) Project

Table of Contents:

Introduction:

Canadian laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of farm-fresh, unprocessed milk are based the assumption that it is likely to contain pathogens which cause disease outbreaks and that there is no way to mitigation this risk.  However, this assumption could be based on obsolete information.   It is very true that studies of raw milk have found that from 4% to 26% of raw milk from commercial dairy farms tests positive for pathogens depending on the study*; however, safe raw milk CAN be produced by using appropriate methods.  The California-based Raw Milk Institute (est.  2011) has developed an on-farm food safety (OFFS) program called the “Risk Analysis and Management Planning” (RAMP) system, which train farmers in production methods that prevent contamination and preserve quality.  BCHA  provides this training to farmers in British Columbia.

In a May 2015 meeting, the BC Government stated that as a condition for legalization, it needs to see evidence that legalization won’t result in increased rates of food-borne disease outbreaks.   This small pilot project examines the effectiveness of RAWMI training, in preparation for a formal research project to be undertaken by a research university. Participating microdairy herdshare farms in B.C., with both trained and untrained agisters, have volunteered to send in milk samples for bacterial testing.   Lab test results are published as they arrive, and are thus available to the public, researchers, and governments.  We are also researching:

  • What are the best methods for preventing contamination?  How do different milking procedures (e.g. udder preparation, milk cooling, equipment cleaning) and on-farm food safety systems such as RAWMI training  affect milk quality?
  • How can legalization be done such that it will be affordable for  herdshares of all sizes?    Onerous laws mandating expensive requirements which farms can’t afford will drive them out of business or underground.

We invite all herdshares farms in B.C. to participate in this project.  Mentoring from RAWMI-trained agisters is available to all participants.  Test results are posted below with each farm given a 3-digit code in order to provide confidentiality.

For more information about the project, see: http://tinyurl.com/bcfm-project.

Research Proposal:

This study was originally designed in 2015 in collaboration with a university here in BC, with the intent that it would be conducted by that university as a full-scale research project.  Unfortunately, the university’s legal advisors then raised liability concerns about livestock co-owners getting sick or dying from drinking the milk produced by the cows and goats which they owned, and the research team bowed out.  It was then decided to continue with the study as a pilot project, and try to find a university to then take on the full research study.  This is still the intent of this study and BCHA welcomes inquiries from interested researchers.  A complete research proposal is available upon request, please email spokesperson@bcherdshare.org for more information.

On-Farm Food Safety Plans:

On-farm food safety (OFFS) plans are becoming standard in many agricultural sectors, including dairying. All licensed commercial dairy farmers in Canada must have these plans, and the mandatory Canadian Quality Milk / ProAction program is a federally-recognized OFFS program.

The Raw Milk Institute has developed a HACCP-based on-farm food safety system, the “Risk Analysis and Management Program.”  RAWMI-training involves developing two safety plans, the Risk Analysis and Management Plan (RAMP) and the Standard Sanitary Operating Procedures (SSOP).   These OFFS plans can be created for any farm with any type of dairy animals.   Each farm is individual, and the plans are customized for the conditions of each.

In the BC Fresh Milk Project, participants are classified as “trained” if they are: (1) testing milk samples regularly and are meeting RAWMI Common Standards, (2) have received on-farm mentoring from a RAWMI trainer, and (3) have written their farm’s RAMP and SSOP.  All other participants are classified as “in-training.”

Listed below are RAMPs and SSOPs of current trained participants in the “B.C. Fresh Milk Project.

Farm 240 (RAWMI-Listed in 2021)

Farm 348/644 (RAWMI-Listed in 2013, the first in Canada)

Farm 418 (applied for RAWMI-Listing)

  • Risk Analysis and Management Plan (RAMP) – Coming Soon
  • Standard Sanitary Operating Procedures (SSOP) – Coming Soon

Farm 517 (applied for RAWMI-Listing)

Other OFFS plans being written by our project participants in-training will be added to this list as they are finalized.

Summary of Findings (October 2022):

This project tests milk samples for coliform count, standard plate count, and the four pathogens which the BC Centre for Disease Control states are of most concern related to raw milk:  Shiga-toxin producing E.coli (STEC), Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes.  Test results can be compared to (A) government and institutional bacterial testing standards for raw milk and pasteurized milk production. and (B) published studies of unpasteurized milk from conventional dairies.

This study has produced evidence showing that, by using modern production methods, raw milk can be produced pathogen-free, in other words, free from disease-causing bacteria and thus safe for human consumption.  The following table compares test results from raw milk produced by conventional dairying methods with milk produced in the BC Fresh Milk Project by Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI)-trained farmers and farmers-in-training.  See reference list below for bibliographic information.

Raw Milk Produced Using HACCP-Based RAWMI Methods:
Study # milk
samples
tested
#pathogen
tests
performed
% Samples Positive for Target Pathogens % samples
with one or
more pathogens
Campylo-
bacter
E. coli
STEC
Listeria
monocytogenes
Salmonella
spp
Yersinia
spp.
BC Fresh Milk Project 250 1000 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 N/A* 0.0%

* N/A = “None detected”

Published Research Studies of Raw Milk Produced Using Conventional Dairying Methods:
Study # milk
samples
tested
#pathogen
tests
performed
% Samples Positive for Target Pathogens % samples
with one or
more pathogens
Campylo-
bacter
E. coli
STEC
Listeria
monocytogenes
Salmonella
spp.
Yersinia
spp.
Jayarao and Henning (2001) 131 524 9.2 4.6 4.6 6.1 5.3 27%
Jayarao et al. (2006) 248 992 2.0 2.4 1.2 6.0 1.2 11%
Rohrbach et al. (1992) 292 876 12 N/A* 4.1 8.9 15.1 33%
Steele et al. (1997) 1720 6880 0.5 0.9 2.7 0.2 N/A 4.1%
Van Kessel et al. (2004) 861 1722 N/A N/A 6.5 2.6 N/A 9.1%
Van Kessel et al. (2008) 183 183 N/A N/A N/A 11 N/A 11%

* N/A = “None detected.
Note:  The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have no record of any foodborne outbreaks caused by Yersinia in raw milk.  It is also not identified as one of the main four dairy-related pathogens by the BCCDC and thus was not tested for in this project.

The Data Set (May 2022):

See also the complete data-set (Google spreadsheet) and original individual test result PDFs from the lab. Besides quantitative data from laboratory testing, this project has also compiled qualitative data regarding milking procedures and variables such as age of samples and temperature of samples when they arrive at the lab.

See also the complete data-set (Google spreadsheet) and original individual test result PDFs from the lab. For more information about the project, see : http://tinyurl.com/bcfm-project.

Joining the Project

Any farm with dairy livestock may participate in the “B.C. Fresh Milk” project and receive RAWMI training plus a discount on the cost of testing milk samples.  To join, either fill in the online form at the bottom of the page “Want to Become RAWMI Listed?” or (2) Download and fill in the Listing application form (.xls format) and email to contact@rawmilkinstitute.org.

Additional Information:

References:

  • BC Herdshare Association 2022. BC Fresh Milk Project. All testing performed by MB Laboratories, Sidney, BC.
  • Jayarao BM et al. 2001. Prevalence of foodborne pathogens in bulk tank milk. Journal of Dairy Science 84(10):2157 2162.
  • Jayarao BM et al. 2006. A survey of foodborne pathogens in bulk tank milk and raw milk consumption among farm families in Pennsylvania. Journal of Dairy Science 89:2451-8.
  • Rohrbach RW et al. 1992. Prevalence of L. monocytogenes, C. jejuni, Y. enterocolitica and Salmonella in bulk tank milk: Risk factors and risk of human exposure. Journal of Food Protection 55:9397.
  • Steele ML et al. 1997. Survey of Ontario bulk tank raw milk for food-borne pathogens. Journal of Food Protection 60:13411346.
  • Van Kessel JS et al. 2004. Prevalence of Salmonellae, Listeria monocytogenes, and fecal coliforms in bulk tank milk on US dairies. Journal of Dairy Science. 87:28222830.
  • Van Kessel JS et al. 2008. Environmental sampling to predict fecal prevalence of Salmonella in an intensively monitored dairy herd. Journal of Food Protection 71(10):1967-73