14 Jun 2024

Dairy Month Spotlight: Maine Milk Lab

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Since June is Dairy Month, Real Maine thought it would be a good time to visit Maine’s Milk Quality Laboratory, which is part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Quality Assurance & Regulations division and is overseen by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The lab analyzes all Maine retail dairy products, wholesale ice cream, and dairy containers. It tests for levels of possibly harmful bacteria, and the presence of other pathogens and drugs. Levels of butterfat and other benchmarks are also calculated.

Director Linda Stahlnecker has been working in the lab for over 20 years. She said anywhere from 50 to 150 samples are tested each week, depending on the time of year. The state has approximately 140 licensed dairy producers.

“The lab is here for the public’s health and to pinpoint any issues,” Stahlnecker said. “We are not only protecting those that buy the products, but the producers as well.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the implementation of the federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, which is designed to ensure the safety of dairy products. Pasteurization is the process of using specifically designed equipment to heat raw milk to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time to reduce the likelihood of food-borne illness.

The lab tests pasteurized and raw (unpasteurized) dairy products, which all must meet specific thresholds and standards. Stahlnecker pointed out that raw milk has never been banned in Maine, which is one of 12 states that allows the retail sale of raw milk. Stahlnecker says this gives members of the public the “freedom to choose.”

State rules require the analysis of each retail dairy product four times in any six-month period. There are rules regarding non-compliance, which could lead to warnings or products being pulled off shelves.

Maine has three inspectors out in the field making sure that dairy producers are following rules and regulations that govern everything from farm design and cleanliness to equipment. The inspectors pick up samples from the producers and bring them into the lab for testing.

Stahlnecker said the lab can “help troubleshoot for anybody that’s licensed with us” if a producer has any particular concerns or issues with a dairy product.

Even though the lab’s testing has become “much more streamlined” since Stahlnecker started, she said its public health mission has always remained.

Real Maine invites you to celebrate Maine Dairy Month in June. From a glass of fresh local milk to any number of products made with Maine milk and cream, there is a wealth of ways to enjoy and discover Maine dairy year-round.

Real Maine is the state’s official agriculture and agritourism promotions program. From seedlings to farmers’ markets to ice cream sundaes, plan your Real Maine summer agricultural experience. Visit www.realmaine.com to connect to farms, food, and agriculture throughout Maine.