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USDA Announces Changes to Dairy Plant Survey Guidelines

Jun 16, 2008

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced changes to its Dairy Plant Survey Guidelines that will offer more processing flexibility for whey products and enhance worker safety. In addition, Ken Vorgert, formerly national field director of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, has been named chief of the Dairy Grading Branch and will manage the program's daily operations.

The Dairy Plant Survey Guidelines are voluntary and only apply to dairy processing companies that sell products to the federal government. A number of states, however, base their dairy regulations on the guidelines and likely will adopt many if not all of the changes in their local laws and regulations.

"These changes were driven by two things," said Allen Sayler, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards. "First, USDA wanted to make the guidelines more consistent with other regulatory programs, such as those of the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments. Second, the Dairy Branch's field staff had suggested several changes over the past two years and the branch decided to incorporate them."

The most important change, according to Sayler, is the guideline regulating the use and cleaning of whey storage tanks. Previously, these large tanks had to be completely emptied and cleaned every four hours, a process that often shut down or significantly stalled operations and lessened productivity. Under the new guidelines, USDA will allow the use of much smaller storage units, called balance tanks, between the storage tanks and the filtration systems. Now only the balance tanks must be emptied and cleaned every four hours. With balance tanks in place, processors can easily switch product from one tank to another without stopping production while the cleaning process takes place.

"It's an important improvement, but it still doesn't go far enough to bring the guidelines in line with current NCIMS regulations, which are much less restrictive without sacrificing safety or quality," Sayler said. "We'll continue to work with USDA to encourage the adoption of even better consistency among existing regulations."

Another key change was designed to enhance worker safety and give added protection to dairy plant inspectors. The new guidelines require USDA field staff to conduct their own review of each plant's written safety program for confined spaces, such as tanks. The inspectors also must review the plants' written "lock-out tag-out programs," which regulate areas with potentially dangerous equipment that must be locked down with the power cut before inspectors can enter. In the past, USDA relied on program reviews from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but now each department will conduct its own safety program reviews.

In addition, the guidelines now state that all milk received at a dairy plant, including milk in cans, must be held at 45 degrees F or less. Previously, milk that arrived in cans was allowed to be held at 55 degrees F or less.

To view all the changes, click here. Members with questions may contact Sayler at, or (202) 220-3544.


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