It's important to feed your family food you can trust.
As a Mom, I'm always careful to make sure that my family can trust the products we're using or the food we're eating. I make and grow everything I can. And for the rest, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is trustworthy! This is hard work because you need to get past the marketing to the fundamentals.
In 2015, we decided to move into sharing our goat milk food with others and so we sought our dairy license. This license is independent verification that you can trust our goat milk to be as healthy as we say it is. We are very proud of the fact that we are Indiana's first and (and currently only) Grade A goat dairy and that it independently verifies we are supplying people with the highest quality goat milk from proven healthy goats.
What exactly does it mean to be a Grade A dairy?
There are two classifications - Grade A and Manufactured Grade (commonly referred to as Grade B). Grade B means you can legally make and sell cheese and gelato. Grade A means you can legally produce fluid milk products such as milk, chocolate milk, and yogurt in addition to cheese and gelato.
We chose to get our Grade A license because, well... we're Goat Milk Stuff. And that means people should be able to legally purchase goat milk from us, right?
It takes a lot of work to not just achieve Grade A status, but to maintain Grade A status.
Meet Facility Code
There are dozens (hundreds?) of pages that describe what is required in a Grade A facility. When we built both the milking parlor and our Grade A processing facility, we printed out multiple copies of these regulations. Our contractor had one copy, we had several copies, and the pages were referred to over and over again. From easily cleanable walls and ceilings to the color of surfaces to drainage, it all had to meet code. Our state Board of Animal Health regulators were involved from the beginning with the initial plans and came by for inspections to ensure we didn't build anything incorrectly.
All of our barns and the goats are regularly inspected. They check the health of the animals, the cleanliness of the barn (including cobwebs), and manure management. They look for anything that could possibly cause a problem with the health of the goats. During kidding season, they also investigate if we're having any problems which might indicate an underlying health issue with the goats.
Milking Parlor Inspections
There are two separate groups that do our inspections - the farm side and the processing side. Both groups inspect our milking parlor regularly. This is where the milk comes out of the goat and goes into the bulk tank where it is immediately chilled. They are inspecting our temperature charts to make sure that the milk is cooled in a timely manner and doesn't warm back up again. They are looking for dirt and milk protein stains on the stainless equipment. They are looking for flies and anything that could cause the milk to be unhealthy.
The kitchen where we bottle our milk and make our cheese, gelato, and yogurt comes under regular, intense scrutiny. That means flashlights checking the drains, the cheese molds, and all the equipment. We have to use approved acid rinses on all the stainless steel equipment to make sure there is no milk protein buildup because if there is protein buildup, it could harbor harmful bacteria.
We send our goat milk in monthly for testing. The lab tests for the presence of bacteria and other nasties, the presence of antibiotics, and the somatic cell count in the milk which can indicate whether the goats have any underlying infections. Additionally on the farm we are required to test each batch of milk to show that no antibiotics are used.
Every batch of milk that is produced and used on the farm has its own set of records and can be traced from bulk tank to pasteurization, to product. As you can imagine, this is a lot of paperwork that must be regularly maintained and stored for accessibility. All of the temperature charts must also be stored for years.
Approved and Calibrated Equipment
All our equipment must be approved by the state and goes through regular calibration with the state to make sure that the required pasteurization temperatures are being achieved.
The State also inspects how we make all of our goat milk products (such as bottled milk, cheese, yogurt, and gelato) to make sure we are following proper and safe handling such as wearing hair-nets and gloves and properly washing hands and utensils and milk equipment. Every temperature chart is analyzed for every batch of product we make to ensure it reached safe pasteurization temperatures and was cooled down properly.
The state takes regular samples of every single type of product we make and tests it to make sure it is safe.
Meeting the PMO
The PMO stands for Pasteurized Milk Ordinance and is an entire book on the information you must meet in order to safely make dairy products available to consumers for sale. It's important to know the regulations in the PMO and strictly adhere to it.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a law that governs anyone producing food products for human (and pet) consumption. This law is hugely complex and requires a lot of compliance. It sets forth the practices and safety plans that need to be followed.
Does that sound like a lot of work? It is. Does that sound like it is expensive to comply with? It is.
Is it worth it? We think so.
Our Grade A license provides independent verification that our milk is healthy and of high quality.
We have always been completely open and honest about what we do and how we do it. We have viewing windows into all of our production areas so customers can see where their food is made. We do Facebook Live videos where you can watch how we take care of our goats. We honestly answer all of the questions our customers have. And most importantly, we've modeled integrity for our children and taught them that one of the most important characteristics they need to develop is integrity. I define it for them as "doing the right thing even when nobody is watching."
Whether we have our Grade A license or not, we would still do everything possible to make sure our goats and their milk are healthy. Not only does Goat Milk Stuff turn it into wonderful products, but my children (and some day my grandchildren) drink our milk raw.
I've been to other goat farms where there is no way that I would allow my children to drink their raw milk. I say that because I know what I am looking for. The average consumer doesn't. Having Grade A certification is one more piece to building trust and knowing that the milk supply is healthy.
I personally know of many goat farmers who sell their milk, cheese, and other dairy products illegally. It makes me sad to see this because goat milk is a wonderful product and I think it needs to be more widely available in America. But every time a goat farmer illegally sells their items, it hurts the rest of us who are trying to do it honestly and the right way.
(That's something else I teach my children. You don't have to agree with the law. In fact, you can work to change laws you don't agree with. But despite your feelings about the law, you still need to obey the law.)
I hope that everyone realizes when they are buying Goat Milk Stuff items - whether it is soap, cheese, milk, gelato, or candy - we are doing everything we can to ensure that the milk that is used is the healthiest milk possible. Our Grade A license is independent confirmation that you can trust Goat Milk Stuff.
What are your thoughts? Does it matter to you that we are a Grade A dairy?