Farm to Fridge: Tracing the Complex Dairy Supply Chain

Farm to Fridge: Tracing the Complex Dairy Supply Chain

Tracing the Complex Dairy Supply Chain and everything you need to know about milk and milk products.

Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, cream, buttermilk, condensed milk, and skim milk are diet staples across the world making it one of the widely consumed products.

For years now, the industry is battling concerns of adulterated products, animal abuse, and extensive deforestation due to growing pasture fields. Yes, Overgrazing is a real problem. Hence the pressure on dairy farmers to become sustainable and follow rotational grazing, supplement with livestock feed etc. It is imperative to monitor the livestock on the pastures by managing seasonal(cool and hot) species while perennial-species recover to maintain and restore ecological balance.

The demand for sustainable and ethical produce has started to impact the dairy industry as well, hence, food traceability solutions that allow companies and consumers to trace every bottle back to the farm before it reaches their refrigerators are an essential tool for the manufacturers to stay afloat.

Before we look at the various traceability solutions applied to the Dairy Industry, here is a brief overview of the worldwide Dairy Industry.

The Global Dairy Industry Snapshot

The global dairy industry is one of the fastest-growing industries, with the valuation almost doubling every five years. The industry is projected to be valued at 1032 billion dollars in 2024, up from the 673.8 billion dollars from 2019. The United States is the second-largest producer of Cow Milk, preceded by the EU, and followed by countries such as India, China, and Russia. The top five milk-producing states in the US in 2019 were California, Idaho, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin with over 50% of the country’s milk production.

Meanwhile, the milk export industry is also growing consistently, with New Zealand as the primary exporter of milk worldwide with an export value of 6.3 billion U.S. dollars, followed by Germany with 2.9 billion dollars milk export value in 2019.

Why Milk Traceability?

Well, no surprise here that milk and dairy products are most prone to adulteration, have short shelf life unless they are pasteurized or UHT treated.

Therefore world over governments have established stringent rules to ensure that every milk and milk-based product follows the strictest quality control measures and can be traced back to its origin seamlessly.

Dairy products are highly nutritious, and that makes them an ideal breeding ground for microorganisms and pathogens. The quality of dairy products is also dependent on the health of the herd, storage conditions, and the overall hygiene of the animals and their environment.

In the United States, typically milk is graded in two types – Grade A and Grade B. Grade A is consumed in liquid form and because the raw fluid milk is prone to contamination by various bacteria, and a percentage of the raw milk may be milked from hormone induced cows the requirement of a stringent health and sanitation standards are applicable. While Grade B milk is traditionally processed for making milk-products such as butter, cheese among others.

Farm to Fridge: Tracing the Complex Dairy Supply Chain

To ensure that the consumers have access to ethical, sustainable, and contaminant-free dairy products, the USA government has introduced an organic certification that traces the products, right from the pasture-fed to the cows until the final processing into milk, cheese, and butter, etc.

If the manufacturers are looking to gain the “Organic” or “Certified Humane” label then they must be able to establish that the cows have to be grass-fed in open pastures 365 days a year and have been treated to avoid pathogens and other diseases.

What parameters are tested for before the bulk milk reaches the chilling plant?

Usually, after collection from dairy farms, milk is transported to factory sites and stored in refrigerated silos before processing. Milk storage vats or silos are refrigerated where milk is stored at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, or colder, for no more than 48 hours. These Vats and silos are agitated to make sure that the entire volume remains cold and that the milkfat does not separate from the milk.

Thereafter, samples from the bulk tanker containing milk from either one or multiple farms are tested for antibiotics and temperature before the milk enters the factory processing area. Now for ease of understanding consider that one tanker transports a single lot number from a specific cattle farm to the chilling plant. Then each farm’s milk samples are tested for milkfat, protein, bulk milk cell count and bacteria count and is rejected if it does not suffice the quality standards. Most cattle farmers are paid based on the quality and composition of their farm’s milk.

Farm to Fridge: Tracing the Complex Dairy Supply Chain

It is a common practice by many large dairy farms to artificially increase a cow’s milk production by feeding them fodder with growth-inducing hormones and antibiotics during the rearing process, while this helps decrease the spread of infectious diseases among their cows, the milk may contain traces of hormones.

Companies across the world have now started implementing blockchain technologies that help them in tracking the raw ingredients and other products that go into making various processed goods between multiple vendors seamlessly.

For the Milk processing industry, it includes using blockchain for all critical processes such as lot tracking, batch indexing, tagging, tabulating ingredients added in the processing stage, and packing, as well.

Role of Food Traceability in Milk Products

The reality is that milk-based products are more popular than milk itself. Ensuring that the milk industry follows food traceability is a prerequisite to implementing food traceability solutions in products like cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, and ice-creams.

Finished milk-based products such as the ones listed above have a higher risk of contamination since they are manufactured on a larger scale where the milk from different lots may be mixed. For future food safety and quality purposes, these milk lots must be traceable in addition to the different additives added, to implement food traceability solutions in totality.

The milk industry follows Key Data Elements(KDE’s) for ensuring traceability from farm-to-bottle that serve as Lot entry points. More specifically, below are the main KDE’s that are mandatory to be tracked at all times.

Farm to Fridge: Tracing the Complex Dairy Supply Chain

1. Receiving the Raw Milk – The receiving facility considers each farm on a truck as a Lot of product received with details of the farm name and address of the farmer and matches it to the silo it was received into.

a. The receiver records the load information and turns the farm tickets into the office, this is the case when multiple farms’ pickups are accumulated on a single delivered load. Or Reverse, the receiver records the individual farm tickets that are received with the load information.

b.Using route information the cooperative can track the load and would need to have the farm information for each load so it could be involved in the traceability effort if a recall were required.

2. Milk Hauler Responsibilities − These records are critical for farm pick-up and in making a recall work. Accurate identification of the farm, quantity, sanitation records, and sample of milk is essential.

3. ID the Farms − To identify the farm load and for provenance as this number is often issued by the State Department of Agriculture, Cooperatives or private Dairy Businesses and is also useful for inspections, sanitation and health of cattle records.

4. Pooling the Raw Milk − Once picked from the farm, the milk is loaded into silos or tanks and reshipped to dairy foods plants, where the milk pooling facility keeps the records of the farm loads as they relate to the tankers shipped.

5. Rework − Rework is common but complicates traceability as we need to track each critical tracking event(CTE’s) for any ingredient, vitamins or product. Rework occurs with mixing, a few examples of rework are flavored milk products, cheese, skim milk powder or even ice-cream batches – these might have remnants of the previous batch or plain milk processing – which must be recorded.

6. Recording Packaging Materials − Any packaging materials that touch the product should be recorded including bags and liners for product packaging.

7. Discarded Ingredients or Products and Human Food By-Products for Animal Food − Records should be maintained for ingredients, products, and packaging materials that are disposed of including details like the quantity discarded, and the Lot Identifying Mark.

8. Finally Shipping records for finished goods and materials in process with Quantities, grades differentiated by fat percentage and bill of lading elements (customer/receiver) are required to be digitized for accuracy.

For milk sold in retail, it is imperative to mark all cartons and cans with GTIN/GS1 as the Lot Identifying Mark to help the milk-producing company to promptly identify the batch just in case of any recall or contamination.

Having said all above traceability solutions will need to be customised as per the plant or milk processing unit such as skim milk powder plant, non-fat dairy, fluid milk plant, ice-cream or frozen dairy foods facility, to cultured products, cheese, butter, whey. These all have different parameters and unique CTE’s.

Why the strong emphasis on Traceability for the Dairy Industry?

A. It makes product recall easier

There are enough incidents of a product recall or expired product sale in the Dairy industry in the last five years to understand that this is a major issue plaguing the industry. In most cases, recalls are due to contamination, undeclared ingredients, or storage practice issues. The ability to trace back the lot number from a single recalled product will ease the financial liability of a dairy firm immensely.

B. It establishes sustainable and ethical practices

Today’s consumer is a discerning person. They believe in choosing a product that follows the sustainable and ethical guidelines laid down. Without Food traceability solutions, it is difficult for a manufacturing company to gain market trust and establish themselves as a follower of these practices.

C. Helps pass government regulations and certifications with ease

If you are looking to be certified as Organic or an ethical business, then it is important that you can demonstrate those practices to the regulatory authorities as and when needed. Documenting these practices across various small vendors can be a challenging task for a large conglomerate. Food traceability solutions that integrate the farming practices of all the vendors and present to you under one umbrella are the easiest way to keep your certification and ensure quality as well.

Most dairy foods manufacturers should maintain internal records as these are useful to have the basic traceability, complete recorded data of the processes and the quality assurance records. These records are presented in a regulatory recall situation and hence should be simple and effective and fool-proof using Blockchain decentralised ledgers where possible.

Dairy Industry is a very lucrative industry if done well. But it has its challenges, right from government regulations to stiff competition in the market.

Are you looking to share your cattle story with your customers? Or even if you are looking to gain an edge over your competitor? Do you want your customer to see value in the label of organic, grass-fed cow milk on your milk carton?

Allow us to help you tell them that your company has the best practices.

Choose SourceTrace’s Food Traceability solutions for your Dairy products and enable your customer to trace every product in their fridge back to the farm.

SourceTrace's software solutions have been deployed across 37 countries and 4 continents already. We are on a mission to make agriculture and food systems more sustainable. Get in touch and we will extend our expertise and commitment to you.


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About SourceTrace

SourceTrace is a SaaS (Software As A Service) company that focuses on sustainable agriculture and empowerment of farmers.

SourceTrace's advanced technology platform DATAGREEN provides comprehensive solutions to manage all aspects of the agricultural value chain.

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