Dairy Processing 101: Legalities

Legalities - Getting Started

There is a reason why inspectors are involved in food and agriculture – food safety! To have a good relationship with your inspectors, you have to remember this - they are not out there to get you! They are there to make sure you are making a product that is safe to sell to the consuming public. 

While you may have deep philosophical ideas about some things, it is easier and cheaper in the long run to work within the laws than to get caught and have federal agents seize product at gun point or to make someone sick and lose everything.

In the following section, we'll introduce you to some of the basic federal and state regulations you will need to be familiar with. Explore additional resources to learn more about the specific laws in your state or area.


A. Federal Regulations 

  • USPHS/FDA Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO)
    Some states are PMO states. What this means is that they adopted PMO as their legal document regarding anything milk processing. Other states are non-PMO states. This means that they use PMO as a guiding document and have legal documents that outline how milk processing is done in their states.    

    If you cross state lines, you are inspected as per PMO.  While you may be making raw milk cheese, you need to understand these laws. They will include you in them. Where things get a little fuzzy regarding laws is if you milk goats and sheep (especially the later). For more information on PMO, check out the FDA website.
     
  • Interstate Milk Shippers List (IMS)
    You will only need to deal with this if you ship milk, yogurt, and the like over state lines. Cheese is not included in this.

    “Interstate milk shippers who have been certified by State Milk Sanitation Rating Authorities as having attained the identified milk sanitation compliance and enforcement ratings are indicated in the following IMS list.  These ratings are based on compliance with the requirements of the USPHS/FDA Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) and were made in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Method of Making Sanitation Rating of Milk Shippers (MMSR).

  • Federal Register
    Since 9/11, all food processing facilities have to register with the Federal Government. This is not voluntary. It is not hard to do and you can go online to complete the process. (ww.registrarcorp.com)
     
  • Federal Milk Marketing Order
    The purpose is to oversee the usage of fluid raw milk every month. They use this utilization to pay the farmers a blended price. For dairy plants, if they are making lower class products they don't have to pay the class one price. Learn more.


B. State Regulations

Each state interprets the PMO literally or uses it as a guide and have their own rules. Most states have the rules and forms online. This makes finding the information easier. You will also learn how friendly your state is to artisan dairy processing when you go to their website and see how much information is, in fact, available to you.

Before you start building, writing a business plan, or making any product, you need to find out the regulations for your state.You need to make contact with regulating agencies and learn who these people are and start the conversation. To find out which agency is involved in regulation of dairy farming and processing, look at the end of this Legal Section.

In general you will need to write a letter of intent. (Click here to see a sample letter of intent) Every state is a little different, but they all ask the same basic questions, including:

Layout design

  • Size and configuration of facility
  • Separate rooms
  • Lighting and ventilation (exhaust fans)
  • Doors & outer openings, drains, floors, walls, ceilings (materials used)
  • Hand wash sinks, restrooms, break rooms, etc.
  • Surroundings

Water

  • Supply (well, city, other)
  • Cross connections – backflow preventers, vacuum breakers, etc.
  • Glycol and sweetwater tanks

Waste disposal

  • Municipal or private
  • Compactor or dumpster

Piping

  • Product
  • CIP
  • Cross connections
  • Design & material

Equipment

  • HTST, UHT, HHST, and Vats
  • Fillers
  • Silos and Tanks
  • Design, materials, and manufacturer

Coolers

  • Locations
  • Size
  • Temperature recording devices

Others are also going to ask for:

  • A floor plan
  • Where you plan to market the product (to get an idea if over state lines)
  • Other licenses that you need (weights and measures, etc.)
  • Sample of good water test at approved lab
  • Products you plan to make
  • Product Recall Plan
  • HACCP (voluntary still, but not a bad idea to have)
  • Packaging, especially if not traditional (glass jars for yogurt)

You may have a lot of this information in your business plan already. They do not need the financial bits, only the narrative bits, but if it is in the business plan, you will look better by having one.

The pre-interview process will be simple and straight forward. It generally covers the following information:

  1. Plans-preparation and submittal
  2. Products to be processed
  3. Application and submittal process (including categories to be applied for)
  4. Other licenses that may be needed from ODA
       -Hauler
       -Weigher, Sampler/Tester
       -Producer
       -Dealer
  5. IMS Program-participation and ramifications
  6. Labeling-submittal for review
  7. Drug residue testing and reporting
  8. Fee structure and monthly reporting
  9. Inspection-procedure and policies
  10. Equipment testing-procedure and policies
  11. Sampling of products-procedure and policies
    -discussion of the various samples that would be collected
  12. Other agency requirements and relationships
    -EPA
    -Local building dept.
    -FDA
    -USDA

The inspection process is not that hard if you keep your facilities clean. The process generally involves an inspector from a specific bureau coming on a schedule to inspect the plant and collect samples of product and/or water. Some states pay for product samples, some do not. If in doubt, send samples to an APPROVED lab at the same time and have them take that sample.

Every state is going to be different. The pre-interview or first inspection should help make clear the expectations of you as a processor (order reports, inspection schedule, samples, etc.) You will be signing something to get your license that says that you allow them to come to your farm to inspect and take samples.You do NOT want to be confrontational or a bully. This is their job and it is to help with food safety. You may get an inspector that is not helpful once in a while, but as a voter and tax payer, you can change that IF you are in the right and can prove that there is nothing wrong.

Two big pieces of advice:

  • Never offer things that are wrong (like you plan to clean those cobwebs, or the mold buildup in the receiving room needs to be power washed), let them choose what that is. A little conversation helps in a big way. Be friendly and courteous, but professional at all times.
  • Have EVERYTHING in writing. Inspectors change and opinions on interpretations of the law change. It can cost a lot if it becomes a “he said, she said” battle. At least take notes and have them sign and date them. Never let them leave without doing that, if in question.

 

C. Other Legal Bits

  • Weights and Measures
    You will need a legal for trade scale and have it calibrated and inspected/sealed every year. This is generally done in your town.
  • Samples
    However you say it, to sample product in certain towns where you do Farmer's Markets will involve a license, especially as you become more urban or “upscale”. Better to find out than get a fine.
  • Zoning
    Some towns and villages have specific laws pertaining to agriculture and food processing.  Good to know before you build.
  • Building Permits, etc
    Find out if your need them.
  • Waste Permits
    Some towns request permits for dealing with waste water and whey.  Find out if you need this.