Canadian dairy farmers and processors proudly meet some of the highest production and safety standards in the world. From milking to storage, inspection to processing, learn more about all the steps we follow to produce milk safely – from our farms to your table.
Food safety from farm to table
Cleanliness and Care
Food safety starts with first-class barns. Farmers ensure their barns are clean and well-ventilated to create a comfortable environment for the cows. Clean conditions are not just good animal care: they're also key to producing quality food, safely.
The cows' food must be safely handled, too2. Different cows and calves require different feed mixes and nutritional supplements, so each mix is carefully labelled and stored separately. And any chemicals used on the farm, such as pesticides and herbicides, must also be carefully separated and handled, in order to avoid any cross-contamination (with bedding, feed, water, and other products) or accidental exposure (for animals and people).
The use of crop protection on Canadian farms is common: most farms rely on it as an essential tool to safeguard plants from pests and destructive insects. It's also carefully regulated and licensed: all chemicals must be registered, approved for use, and meet Canadian standards for product quality, efficacy, and safety. When crop protection is applied, a fixed amount of time must lapse before harvest (and before being fed to cows) in order to ensure that no unsafe residues remain.
Testing, Licensing, and Regulations
All milk produced on Canadian dairy farms is inspected and sampled before it is transported to a processing plant. The milk is then tested and analyzed for levels of fat and protein and to verify the absence of antibiotic residues3. The farm sample is also used to verify the quality of each shipment of milk from each farm.
In Canada, everyone involved in milk production and processing must be licensed – even the milk transporters are certified graders of milk. And, like all food industries, the dairy sector in Canada is regulated at the national level by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency4.. These food safety regulations are in addition to the provincial regulations governing dairy-farming practices, the proAction guidelines outlined below and other standards. All these regulations and standards help us be confident that the Canadian dairy products we consume are safe and of high quality.
Storage and Transportation
When dairy cows are milked, the milk is cooled and stored on the farm in a stainless-steel bulk tank, at a temperature between 0 and 4°C to prevent bacteria growth. This bulk tank contains the milk collected over the past two days.
Milk is then transported to a processing facility, where it is pasteurized, to effectively eliminate any harmful bacteria. After pasteurization, the milk is cooled to 0–4ºC again – and from this point on, the "cold chain" must never be broken again, all the way to the grocery store shelves. Then, it's up to you to get it into your fridge or freezer.
Here's another "cold" fact: in Canada, all fresh milk is produced regionally, meaning it usually only takes two to three days from when a cow is milked to when that milk ends up on the shelf of your local grocery store. Talk about fresh!
The proAction Program
In addition to all federal and provincial regulations, dairy farmers in Canada have come together to develop and hold themselves to the proAction program. ProAction outlines requirements in six areas: food safety, milk quality, animal care, livestock traceability, biosecurity and the environment. In total, proAction defines 82 standards and practices, 42 of which are related to food safety. While proAction focuses on farming practices, it's also about providing a common transparent set of standards for milk production, so you can feel good about the process of milk production in Canada.
Better than the highest standards
The Canadian dairy sector has also come together to set consistent provincial and national standards for somatic cell counts (SCC) in milk. Simply put, a lower SCC means improved quality and a longer shelf life for milk. The results speak for themselves: from January to June 2020, almost all of the provincial average SCC results reported were far better than the already high standards – coming in at less than half the levels of the standard5. And the story is the same this year, you can check out for yourself here.
From our Farms to Your Table
When it comes to the milk and dairy products we all enjoy, Canadian dairy farmers consistently set a high bar, then exceed it – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not just a glass of milk you are pouring, but a commitment to safety and a source of pride by thousands of Canadian farmers and processors.
1. Dairy Info "Somatic cell and bacteria counts" agriculture.canada.ca
2. Health Canada. “Setting Standards for Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) of Veterinary Drugs Used in Food-Producing Animals.” canada.ca
3. Canadian Dairy Information Centre. “National Dairy Code: Production and Processing Requirements.” dairyinfo.gc.ca
4. Government of Canada. “Food Safety Recognition Program.” inspection.canada.ca
5. Government of Canada. "Livestock Feeds" inspection.canada.ca