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Requirements for Obtaining a Dairy License

Requirements for Obtaining a Dairy License

There are several requirements in order to become a grade A licensed dairy. First of all, one needs to decide if s/he is going to sell milk, aged non-pasteurized cheese, or pasteurized fresh cheese, yogurt, and chevre. I will be writing about my experience in Washington State. Please check with your state for their particular requirements, as they may differ from state to state. While states vary on some interpretations, the PMO (Pasteurized Milk Ordinance) serves as the basis for the rules in the United States. Europe and other countries have their own sets of rules, some significantly different than the United States, and yet they can import into the US.


Washable surfaces prevail in many areas. The milking parlor, cheese processing room, and curing room – all need surfaces that are easily cleanable. While this does not have to be plastic or melamine, most food safety officers tend to frown on wood, even when varnished. Oil-based enamel paint will work in some cases to paint over good quality plywood. An interesting controversy that has reared its head (again) is the issue of wooden shelves versus plastic or other kinds of shelves in the curing area. Many states allow wooden shelves for curing of cheese, but Washington state does not. I have chosen to continue to use wood (I made hardwood shelves out of oak and maple), but it means that I will get a demerit each time my facility is inspected. So, you can elect to continue certain practices if you’re convinced of them, just realize that you’ll be marked down when you are inspected, and then it becomes “this is a repeat violation”, which sets one up for a chronic situation. If ever closed down, the Department can always say, “This was a repeat violation.”


On another note, I have found used stainless steel to be of great use and it also pleases the inspector. Perusing second-hand stores and surplus yards yields a bounty of economically-priced sinks, countertops, sheets for walls, etc. The best set of racks for the curing room I obtained at a surplus yard for $100 and it hasn’t rusted one iota, whilst the supposedly stainless steel available from a popular hardware store turned out to be a light gauge chrome that has rusted in less than a year and now needs to be replaced – and the price was about the same as the trusty old used ones!


Regular and thorough cleaning is a necessary chore. Having a regular schedule to clean various aspects or parts of your milking operation is imperative. I walk into my cheese room every so often with my ‘inspector’s eyes’ on, and try to look over everything lightly to see what jumps out as cluttered, dusty, with cobwebs, etc. and then proceed to clean those areas. I’m fortunate to have stainless steel countertops that are part of the sinks (a score from a restaurant surplus where an operation remodeled and I got the huge double sink and countertop as one piece), which makes it easier to clean and it sparkles when I wipe it down. I also use Clorox or simple green water solutions frequently to wash the fridge and cabinets.


CheeseroomlengthviewA sprayer attached to the sink is a wonderful tool for assisting in washing. I began without one, then worked briefly in a kitchen with one and returned insisting on installing a sprayer. It costs some $300 for the apparatus, but it’s well worth it. We’ve built one from parts and then, when it wore out, bought one already made and they actually come out close to the same price. The nozzle gets clogged up with our hard mineral water, but it is not difficult to take off the head and clean it – same as the kitchen faucet.


The easiest kind of license to get is for an aged, raw milk cheese. One is inspected twice a year. At the same time, sales will be limited and one has to wait 60 days before selling any product, to allow for the aging. That’s how I began. Soon, I took the plunge and bought a pasteurizer. The regional supervisor was correct when she stated that one can recoup a significant part of the investment by being able to sell immediately and a wider variety of products. I might mention here that having a diversity of products really boosts interest and sales at farmers’ markets. I now sell yogurt and 3-5 kinds of fresh cheeses – all pasteurized. The investment in a pasteurizer was my Lamborghini. Seven years ago a micro-pasteurizer (9 – 20 gallons) cost $10,000 if paid in full at time of purchase. I got mine from Micro Dairy Systems out of Maryland. Frank Kipe is a marvelous inventor and came out personally to install and give us an in-person tutorial. We enjoyed getting to know him and were impressed with both his product and his service. The few details we’ve had to troubleshoot, he’s been responsive and an excellent resource. Inspections occur monthly and the food safety officer takes samples of milk and yogurt at that time. If there are any e-coli or listeria, one receives a letter from the Dept. of Ag and given 3/4 times to correct the occurrence.


CheeseroomPasteurizerTo become licensed for selling milk, one needs additional infrastructure in the form of a bottling room and to buy new bottles/jugs. One also needs to decide if s/he is going to sell raw milk or pasteurize it. Selling raw milk varies by state and can be very demanding in its inspections and recall procedures. For those reasons, I have not gone to selling milk for human consumption. Some states have ‘goat shares’ where customers are technically buying a portion of their cooperatively owned animal or sell ‘pet food’. This is a very gray area and one should enter in carefully.


The licenses I needed are a milk producers’ permit ($55/year), milk processing plant, dairy technician’s license for the pasteurizer ($10 – one time), food handler’s permit ($10 every 2-3 years), permit to sell at farmers’ markets ($30-85/yearly). I also need to have my well tested annually at $27 each time. In addition, we got a business license/formed an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), which costs $55 annually. That is approximately $200 a year. In a future article I will discuss the business end; that is, the business plan and financial analysis of recoupment of investment.


Have a big glass of cold milk and enjoy the summer!


Carey at Pine Stump Farms

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