Family Cow Raw Milk Safety FAQs

Can I watch a Family Cow Raw Milk bottling morning?

Absolutely! See our Raw Milk Bottling Photo Story. Nothing can take the place of pictures! :)

Family Cow Raw Milk Photo Journal


Is Family Cow Raw Milk Laboratory Tested?

Yes. Our Raw Milk is third-party tested for:

  1. (SPC) Standard Plate Count bacteria test. This is not a pathogen test per se, but is more of an indicator test to confirm general hygiene. PA raw milk standards require us to be 5 X cleaner than milk going for pasteurization. (sample taken from a finished bottle each time we bottle)
  2. (PI) Preliminary Incubation bacteria test. This is also an indicator test to confirm general hygiene, but the sample is actually incubated for about a day to further heighten the sensitivity to perhaps catch something that the SPC may not have shown. This one is not required for raw milk sales, but we do it weekly anyway just for our own knowledge and to verify our sanitation protocol. (sample taken bi-weekly from final packaged bottle)
  3. (SCC) Somatic Cell Count is another indicator test which is reflective of the health and well-being of the cows and the strength of their immune system. (sample taken bi-weekly from final packaged bottle)
  4. (TCC) Total Coliform Count. This count must be <10 coli/ml. This is the same standard that public drinking water, bottled spring water, or any other for-sale-to-the-public drink must pass. (sample taken from a finished bottle each time we bottle)
  5. Salmonella - zero tolerance
  6. E.coli-O157:H7 - zero tolerance
  7. Listeria monocytogenes - zero tolerance
  8. Campylobacter jejune - zero tolerance

Also, our cows are blood tested by a licensed veterinarian every year to be verified free of:

  1. Bovine tuberculosis - zero tolerance
  2. Brucellosis - zero tolerance

Of these 10 milk sanitation and herd health tests, only the first 3 are required in order to sell milk to the pasteurizer. The other 7 are extra PA state tests required to sell raw milk intended for direct human consumption.

Here are recent test results (updated every few months). In the milk world Coliform is abbreviated as CC and Standard Plate Count is abbreviated as SPC. Milk standards for pasteurized milk and raw milk are 10 CC and 20,000 SPC.

Year/Month CC SPC
2012 Average 5.9 2,537
2013 Average 5.6 3,696
2014 Average 1.7 1,907
2015 Average 1.9 2,673
2016 Average 2.1 736
2017 Average 3.0 1,248
2018 Average 4.8 1,443
2019 Average 4.9 3,429
2020 Average 2.3 1,323
2021 Average 2.8 1,458
2022 Average 4.5 1,473
Jan 2023 3.2 420
Feb 2023 3.4 275
March 2023 7.1 573
April 2023 8.4 675
May 2023 6.2 433
June 2023 8.2 567
July 2023 8.5 550
Aug 2023 7.7 1,238
Sept 2023 7.1 4,388
Oct 2023 3.2 611
Nov 2023 3.3 2,070
Dec 2023 Coming Soon

What is The Family Cow Voluntary Raw Milk Safety Protocol?

At The Family Cow we voluntarily go beyond the state requirement for testing of raw milk. We do this extra testing for your peace of mind, the safety of your families and out of abundance of caution. Testing is tedious and expensive. It would be easier and cheaper to only test at the state required minimum.

To our knowledge, we are the only PA dairy, raw or pasteurized, which tests in the final retail-ready container at this frequency. Some experts in microbiology have cautioned us that testing with this level of intensity is not a wise business move because, in their words, “If you look that hard and test that frequently, you will be sure to have a positive test sometime. Then your farm and food will have bad press, while those who test less frequently or never, will look good!”

Well, of course we recognize and understand the logic and truth of that statement, but there is an ethical side to the equation which always grounds us and brings us back to our true north. And that is this: When it comes to your family’s safety, it’s not the government’s standards that we are trying to live up to… it’s yours. We have faith that you will appreciate our caution, honesty, transparency and forthrightness. Maybe it’s not best for business but if it’s best for you... it’s good enough for us.

For more on the "why" of our testing, read The Heart of Your Farmer.

And then for the "how" of our raw milk safety and cleanliness, check out the links below. I personally wrote this food safety plan and am personally responsible to see that it is implemented daily. We do take raw milk safety very seriously and since helping to set up RAWMI in 2013, we and other RAWMI members have been training other raw milk farmers across the nation in these raw milk safety methods.


Does all this extra pathogen testing make The Family Cow raw milk extra safe?

We are 5th generation dairy farmers on this "Shank Family Farm" and each generation grew up drinking raw milk even though we did not test the milk for pathogens. So, it's technically not correct to say that the testing 'makes' our milk safe. The testing is more of a verification that we continue to produce safe milk... a scientific, laboratory verification of what we as a family personally experience.


What else can you do to verify raw milk safety?

Believe it or not, there is actually more that we do.

In fact this last point might be the most meaningful. It is definitely the most personal.

My wife Dawn and I and our six children drink several gallons of raw milk from every batch that we bottle for our customers. We are like the king's tasters!

In all fairness, I must say that our family does not specifically drink the raw milk as a test of safety. Rather, it is simply this: We, like you, want the safest, highest quality, raw, organically grass-fed, Jersey milk to nourish us and our children. We know where to get it... and we trust it completely.