Dairy Processing 101: Infrastructure

Infrastructure

Part I: Facility Design

When designing a facility that will be inspected, it's important to keep a number of basic rules in mind.

The cheese processing room will be similar to the milk house in its construction. For those who have already built a milk house this will be relatively easy to understand. For those new to building a facility that will be inspected I have included some points to consider:

  • Materials should be smooth and impermeable;
  • No wood below 2’ from the floor;
  • Floors sloped CORRECTLY to drains to prevent puddles;
  • Slope all sills;
  • Materials should be easily cleaned;
  • Floor drains must have covers (and be rodent proof);
  • Ventilation and aeration are important. If near a barn, look into systems that will purify the incoming air. Understand the difference between ventilation and aeration. This is equally important in the cave and in the processing area.
  • Keep the hand washing sink handy to production area. Stock with soaps and towels. Do not use as a storage spot.
  • Covered light fixtures. Some inspectors do not like lights directly over vats. No conduits ever over vats or cheese processing areas due to condensation.
  • Adequate rodent control, including screens, holes covered, etc.
  • Separate bathroom for employees only if non-family members are hired or if location is far from existing facilities.
  • Physically separate and label raw milk receiving and production areas and equipment/supplies from pasteurized receiving and production areas, equipment/supplies;
  • Areas where cheese touch a surface should be stainless steel or FDA approved food grade plastic. Aging shelves may be wood, but a sanitary protocol should be implemented and followed to ensure lack of contamination.
  • Coolers do not need drains, but floors must be sloped to the doorways so that they can be cleaned and dried;
  • Farmstead cheese makers do not need to test each batch for antibiotics. If they are used on the farm, however, it is good practice to have batches tested prior to makes as the presence of even a small amount will kill all cultures and enzymes, rendering a batch wasted.
  • Potable water supply. The quality will have to be superb with little off flavors for wash curd cheeses. Testing will be done every six months by inspectors. Do it yourself periodically if in doubt.
  • It is ideal to collect all whey and either field spread or feed to alternative livestock (pigs, heifers, veal, chickens, etc.). Some use it in baking for on-farm bakeries as well.
  • Low velocity systems in aging caves. Below ground caves are desired.  Systems should be installed to ensure CONSISTENT temperature and humidity based on the needs of the cheese.