President's Desk

Milk Quality in India

The report of National Milk Quality Survey, 2018, released early this month by the FSSAI reveals that milk in India is largely safe, even though quality issue persists. The survey found that less than 10% of milk samples had contaminants coming mainly from feeds and improper farm practices. It is heartening to note that over 90% of milk samples were found to be safe.

In past, the press & media and social sites were very active to shake the public confidence in the safety and quality of milk and milk products sold in Indian markets. All of them cited a WHO report that milk produced in India is not safe for human consumption. No doubt, there have been sporadic instances of some unscrupulous dairy business operators indulging in the act of adulteration especially during the festival season when the demand for milk and milk products outstrips supply.

Milk and milk products are prone to spoilage if these are not stored in refrigerated environment. Preparation of dairy products under unhygienic conditions and their storage at ambient temperature results in quick deterioration of quality primarily because of bacteriological growth. There are instances in which some milk products with huge market demand are prepared months in advance of the festival season and stored without proper refrigeration under unhygienic conditions leading to poor microbiological quality and growth of moulds on the surface of the products.

Economically motivated and willful act of adulteration in dairy products amounts to cheating of consumers. The greed for earning money through malpractices in food business leads to a negative effect on the health of consumers.

The report of National Milk Quality Survey, 2018, released early this month by the FSSAI reveals that milk in India is largely safe, even though quality issue persists. The survey found that less than 10% of milk samples had contaminants coming mainly from feeds and improper farm practices. It is heartening to note that over 90% of milk samples were found to be safe. The survey conducted on milk quality addressed four quality parameters, 12 adulterants and four contaminants (93 antibiotic residues, 18 pesticide residues, Aflatoxin M1 and ammonium sulphate).

The milk quality survey was conducted over a period of six months between May to October 2018. The sample size comprised of 2607 samples of processed milk and 3825 samples of raw milk drawn from across the country. Of the processed milk, 60% were toned milk, 20% full cream milk, 15% standard milk and 5% double toned milk. Of the raw milk, one third each of the samples were of cow, buffalo and mixed milk. The survey did not cover the milk products so also the microbiological quality of milk.

The key findings of the survey are that merely 12 samples out of a total of 6432 had adulterants that render the milk unsafe for consumption. Less than 10% of the samples had contaminants that made milk unsafe. The contaminants in milk get entry due to poor quality of feed, irresponsible use of antibiotics and unhygienic farm practices. The quantitative analysis suggested that this problem was not as serious as reported by the Press and Media. The problem of contaminants in milk was limited to few pockets in some states. Dairy professionals should be able to prevent such occurrences through awareness building activities and monitoring of primary production at producers level. About 1.2% of the milk samples were reported to carry antibiotic residues above the tolerance level. Antibiotics are used for treating of bovine mastitis.

Aflatoxin M1 as a metabolite of moulds was detected in 5.7% of the samples beyond the permissible limits. Aflatoxin M1 comes directly from feeds and fodders. Sometime damaged grains and use of mould infested roughages are responsible for occurrence of Aflatoxin M1 in milk.

Nearly 19.6% of milk samples did not meet the limit set for SNF. In 3.4% of milk samples sugar and maltodextrin were present. Noncompliance in quality of processed milk is a matter of concern, although FSSAI regulations have specified the minimum standards of fat & SNF for various kinds of milk. The initiatives taken by the FSSAI with regard to zerotolerance to adulteration in milk are greatly appreciated all over the country.

There is an urgent need to apply preventive and corrective actions to improve the quality of milk in the country by establishing a robust monitoring system for safety and quality including third party audits to determine root cause, mandatory training of Food Safety Supervisors, identification and registration of milkmen who supply raw milk directly to consumers and actions to eliminate contaminants during primary production.

The survey conducted by FSSAI did not include the micro-biological parameters. The micro-biological quality of raw milk is extremely poor with a bacterial load of about one crore per ml. The shelf life of market milk is just about two days in the refrigerator while the developed countries stamp their milk as safe for consumption for 10 days. No good quality fermented milks like Dahi, Cheese and Shrikhand can be made with milk having high microbial load. Although clean milk production campaign is hotly pursued in India, the practice of cleaning and sanitization of bulk milk coolers is questionable due to unavailability of hot water and lack of detergents. This requires training, ownership and discipline on the part of dairy business operators.

The FSSAI have set up the upper limits of microbiological and chemical contaminants. The food testing laboratories owned by FSSAI, dairy units and other private sector agencies are not fully equipped for testing these contaminants. Food Safety Officers have also to be trained and provided with requisite tools to collect and transport milk samples for microbiological analysis to the testing laboratories as no preservative is allowed to be added to milk for microbiological analysis.

Contaminants finding their way into milk at farm level such as pesticides, heavy metals and water must be prevented to ensure safety of milk and milk products. The quality of feeds, fodders and concentrate mixture must be monitored to ensure absence of such contaminants beyond tolerance limits.

Melamine is known to have posed health risk among infants and young children in some countries. Fortunately there are no reports of illness caused in India by melamine contamination in milk and milk products. Melamine which is used in numerous industrial products such as fertilizers, plastics, dishware, kitchenware, commercial fixtures, laminates, adhesives, molding compounds, coatings and flame retardants can find way into milk products.

The role of National Authority is critical to protect the consumers from unsafe food. Increased vigilance is necessary through regular inspection of FBO. Our food safety responsibility must be shared by not only the national authority but also the primary milk producers, the dairy processors and the consumers. Dairy industry, in particular, should organize trainings for milk producers in good hygienic and manufacturing practices. The development of a robust food safety culture in all food sectors should be encouraged to prevent contaminants from entering the food supply chain. Informed consumers can contribute to minimizing the risk of being exposed to a food borne hazards.

Academia and research organizations in the country must also share the responsibility to ensure supply of safe and quality milk and milk products. This can become possible through regular testing of market samples of milk and milk products and publishing the findings to educate the industry and the consumers in production and supply of safe milk and milk products.