Antibiotics in milk

Do you buy milk for your family? I sure do, my son loves it! I know it’s one of the best foods for him as he is growing. Some moms are concerned that there might be antibiotics in milk. I want you to stop worrying – there are never antibiotics in milk!

There are lots of labels to wade through at the grocery store. Some of the labels that can seem the scariest are on milk. After all, we give milk to our kids. Lots of milk. My almost two-year old can drink a gallon of milk in 3-4 days by himself. And the last thing we want to do is feed our families something that might be bad for them.

Some brands of milk are popping up with a label that says “no antibiotics” or “antibiotic free” or “all milk is tested for antibiotics.” That’s great – we all want antibiotic free milk. And these labels make it sound like their milk is the only milk that has no antibiotics. But did you know, regardless of what the labels say, that all milk is antibiotic free?

That’s right – no matter what breed of cow made the milk, no matter what kind of barn she lived in or if she was on pasture, no matter if she was raised on an organic or a conventional farm, no matter if she ever was given antibiotics in her life – all milk is antibiotic free.

Did you catch that? Let me say it again.

All milk is antibiotic free.

All meat is antibiotic free, too.

If cows get sick, sometimes they need antibiotics. Not every sick cow needs antibiotics – veterinarians help farmers decide which cows to treat with antibiotics and which cows to treat another way. Just like in people – every time you get sick you don’t need antibiotics, but when you do, antibiotics are really important!

If a cow is given antibiotics, her farmer keeps detailed records about which antibiotic she was given, how much, when, and how often. She is taken out of the milking herd, and her milk is thrown away the entire time she is on antibiotics, and for a certain period of time after the antibiotics are done. This is called the withdrawal period.

Every drug that can be used in dairy cattle has a withdrawal period. For some drugs it may be as short as a day or two, but most drugs have a withdrawal period of 7-10 days. This is the amount of time it takes for the drug to be completely metabolized and out of the cow’s system. During the withdrawal period, no milk from that cow can be used for human food. It all must be thrown away.

After the withdrawal period, the cow go back to the milking herd. The antibiotics are out of her system and are out of her milk.

Every time the milk truck comes to pick up milk from a dairy farm, the milk is tested for antibiotics. If any antibiotics are found in the milk, the entire truck load of milk is dumped. If the milk truck has stopped at multiple dairy farms to get a full load, the farmer who let antibiotic-contaminated milk get into the milk supply has to pay for the other farmer’s milk.

A sample of milk is taken for testing at each dairy farm before the milk truck picks up the milk. Every milk truck is also tested when it reaches the bottling facility. This is all for food safety – no one wants milk from sick cows in our food supply, and no one wants milk with antibiotics in our food supply! Farmers take good care of their cows, and keep very careful records, to make sure that this never happens.

My friend Krista at The Farmer’s Wifee shares about how they use antibiotics on their dairy farm, and what steps they take to ensure that milk with antibiotics doesn’t get into the food supply.

So, rest assured, whether the gallon of milk in your refrigerator specifically says it or not, there are never any antibiotics in milk!

One part of that is helping people understand how antibiotics are used responsibly on a dairy farm, and why you can be assured that all milk at the grocery store is antibiotic-free

Sometimes it’s necessary for dairy farmers to work with veterinarians to treat their cows with antibiotics when they’re ill, just as we sometimes need medication when we’re sick. However, there are strict government standards and protocols that ensure there aren’t antibiotics in the milk you buy at the store.

How can you know for sure?

In 2015, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine reported that the milk you buy at your grocery store is safe after collecting milk samples from nearly 2,000 dairy farms across the country.

Here’s how the dairy community makes sure your milk is safe:

Focusing on Cow Health

Dairy farmers take special care to make sure their cows are healthy. When a cow is sick and needs medication, they follow best practices to help the animal recover. 

While the cow is on antibiotics, she’ll be housed in a special area, and her milk will be kept separated until the drugs have fully cleared her system. Read one farmer and veterinarian’s story of how she decided to use medicine to help a sick cow recover.

Milk’s Multiple Tests

When a milk truck comes to pick up a dairy’s milk, the driver takes a sample of the milk. Once the driver arrives at the milk plant, another sample is taken and tested. But that’s not all. Watch this video to learn about the many tests milk goes through.

Have more questions? Here we have dairy farmer Linnea Kooistra debunking common myths:

Learn More

  • Our friends at have answered some common questions about this.
  • Check out this infographic from the International Dairy Foods Association on the FDA’s report.
  • For more detailed information, read through this fact sheet from the Midwest Dairy Association.

Let’s talk about antibiotics in dairy products, shall we? The most common misconception I hear from consumers is that there are antibiotics in dairy products. That is simply NOT true. In fact, it is insulting to have someone that has never stepped foot on the farm to tell me that our milk is tainted. But to be completely honest, it is scary that so many people are willing to take an opinion as fact instead of going to the source, the dairy farmer. So let me answer some questions for you (since you asked).

Do we treat cows on our farm(s) with antibiotics? Yes. We treat animals only when they are sick.

Do we treat young animals that are not sick? No. There is no need. It does absolutely nothing for us to treat heifers (young cattle) that are perfectly healthy.

When animals are treated, how do we ensure the milk doesn’t reach consumers?

When an animal becomes sick, we determine what her illness is & what course of action we need to take. This does not mean that we resort to antibiotics but when we do:

  • We have a white board in our milking parlor. The sick cow is written on the white board. Her number, date treated & what she was treated with. This same information is also written down in our record book. We record all treated cows in two locations.
  • Her leg is marked with a leg band. We milk from behind the cows & her leg band cannot be missed.
  • When a treated cow comes into the parlor. The milking unit in which she is standing has the line removed from the main milk line. This is the absolute first thing that is done to insure that she is NOT milked into the bulk tank.
  • She is then milked into a separate bucket while the other cows are milked into the bulk tank.
  • Once she is done being milked, ALL the equipment that was used to milk her is cleaned.
  • This process is done until the treatment is finished. Each antibiotic has a with-hold period for milk & meat. So basically, if you want to use the milk for human consumption you have to wait a certain period of time. If you want to sale that cow at the sale barn, you have to wait a certain period of time. That wait period insures that there are NO antibiotics left in that animal. Not even a small amount of antibiotic residue.
  • Each farm is equipped with an antibiotic test system. The farmer can test milk at any time on the farm.
  • EVERY time milk is picked up on the farm, a milk sample is taken prior to the milk being loaded on the milk truck.

What happens if there is a mistake? If the cow was missed & her milk entered the bulk tank, the entire bulk tank of milk would be emptied down the drain. The farmer would take that at as a loss. This is something that is taken very serious on all farms. Milk quality is our number one priority.

What happens if it is not caught at the farm? All milk has a sample taken at the farm prior to being transferred to the milk truck. At the processing plant, each milk truck is tested for antibiotics. If for some reason that milk tests positive for antibiotics, the entire truck of milk is disposed of. It is not allowed to enter the processing plant. Once each individual milk sample is tested, the farm that had the positive test has to pay for every other farm’s milk that was on that truck. As if dumping only your milk down the drain wasn’t expensive enough, this would be a huge blow to your check book.

How often do we treat cows? There is no set amount of cows we treat each year or an average on how often we treat them. They are only treated when absolutely necessary. I want to make it very clear that antibiotics are not our first resort. There is udder cream that is all natural and includes essential oils which can be used for mastitis. We use calcium/phosphorus for milk fever. Not every cow that shows sign of sickness needs antibiotics. Antibiotics are our last resort.

How often is your farm inspected? Since September we have had a federal inspection, state inspection & several stops from our cooperative. Every sample that is taken when our milk is picked up is not only tested for antibiotics but it is test for overall milk quality. We have strict guidelines that we have to adhere to. In addition, the higher quality of milk our farm produces the more we are paid for our milk.

Who is our cooperative & how do you purchase our products? We do not sell directly to the public. Our cooperative is Northwest Dairy Association. Our milk is processed at the Dairgold plant in Spokane, Washington.

If you have any questions/concerns please feel free to contact me. I can be reached through my blog or Facebook.

I strongly encourage you to read this article, Drug residues in raw milk samples decline again.ant

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Krista is a wife, mother of three & first generation dairy farmer. Together with her husband, they milk 200 cows. Krista loves to write, take photos, travel and meet new people. She loves raising her kids on their family dairy farm and is incredibly passionate about their way of life.

Monitoring Antibiotics Residues in Milk in China


During 2010 to 2015, there were several reports revealing that samples of cow milk sold in Chinese market were contaminated with antibiotic residues, causing a public panic for food safety. These scandals destroy the reputation of domestic milk, which further stresses the urgency of perfecting policies to control the problems of antibiotics residues in milk and provide consumers qualified milk.


The safety of cow milk, as an important issue of daily consumption, is closely related to the public health. Multifaceted approaches are used for quality management of milk in developed countries. However, regulations along the milk production chain are not well established in China, especially the legislation and guidance in respect of monitoring antibiotics residue in milk.

Antibiotics are drugs of natural, semisynthetic or synthetic origin to fight against bacterial diseases. They are frequently used not only for the treatment of diseases but also for prophylactic and prevention purposes to improve the productivity. In the south of China, cows often suffer from mastitis due to the poor animal welfare and the humid climate, which is a prevalent and painful disease in dairy cow herbs with inflammation of the breast tissue. Sick cows will be injected with antibiotics such as Ofloxacin, Ampicillin, Penicillins, Cephalosporin, etc. in clinical diagnosis. During the period of treatment or in the withdrawal time, milk from cows contains left-over antibiotic, while consumption of such milk is harmful to human. It will disturb the natural bacteria in stomaches for human and even reduce the efficacy for treatment infections with the extensive usage of antibiotics globally. To make things worse, as for exquisitely sensitive allergic individuals, such milk will stimulate a hypersensitive reaction, although the number of such incidents is low.

However, according to the Chinese agricultural standard, only four kinds of antibiotics listed are detected, while over 80 kinds have been accessed in animal husbandry currently. The other document GB19302-2010, the National food safety standard of raw milk, describes in an extremely vague tune, suggesting the milk tests should be negative for antibiotics without matching surveillance to put the standard into practice.


The gap between policy and public expectation regarding monitoring antibiotics in milk is highly possible to trigger universal query of milk safety and destroy the promising prospect of domestic milk and dairy products.

Scientifically speaking, current analytical methods cannot fulfill the demand for fast, easy and large-scale detection of antibiotic residues. This is because that microbiological assays and instrumental assays are either time consuming and with relatively poor sensitivity and specificity, or require complex preparation of samples and expensive equipment based on liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. The most conventional method, immunoassay, is not satisfying enough to analyse several different antibiotics simultaneously. In addition, it can be found that the percentage of detected varieties is too low to cover the total antibiotics treating diseases of cows, leaving a huge loophole in governance. Thus, more advanced and innovative methods based on commercial kit tests, such as screening-system miniaturization or even nanotechnology, should be transformed from the laboratory into practice to simplify the process of detection.

Another problem is that the policies have not ascertained where the responsibility in the chain of milk from farmer to the end market. In the UK, with reference to specific requirements in Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, “food business operators must initiate procedures to ensure that raw milk is not placed on the market if it contains antibiotic residues in excess of regulated limits”. To avoid a severe penalty, farmers always detect milk voluntarily and discard contaminated milk, as they will be canceled the qualification to supply milk if antibiotic is detected in the submitted supply for sale twice. In China context, however, costs of rule-breaking behavior is lower than an illegal outcome, so that some producers are with the lucky psychology assuming getting away from penalization to provide unsatisfied milk.

In addition, farmers should improve their knowledge of preventing cows from getting sick on the farm. Taking mastitis as an example, when cows show reduced lying time and increased activity or any other disordered behaviors during milking, farmers should notice these abnormal situations and try to separate them away from healthy ones. It is also important to keep the environment clean, particularly keeping milking procedure, the bedding and calving areas in satisfying sanitary conditions. Other efficient methods of preventing mastitis away from cows include ensuring ration with enough Vitamin E and selenium and taking a vaccination program against coliform bacteria when necessary. In short, regulators should facilitate farmers learning innovative approaches from veterinarians and scientists to improve the animal welfare, reducing the morbidity and the usage of antibiotics.


The lack of systemic regulations regarding antibiotics residues in milk can not guarantee the safe milk available for customers. If left unsolved, customers will refuse to pay for domestic milk, during when milk producers and manufacturer will finally be putting profits down the drain. Therefore, it is critical to design a more scientific standard accompanied with discipline mechanisms to strengthen the construction of safety monitoring mechanism. New methods should be introduced for the accurate, sensitive, rapid, and convenient detection of multiple antibiotics residues in milk remains. Once the sample breaks the line, follow up investigations should be launched on farm to determine the cause of contamination and increase the frequency of sampling and testing. In the long term, network governance should be initiated combining regulators, scientists and veterinarians working together to help farmers establishing knowledge framework of raising dairy cows. With the legal guarantee and institutional support, Chinese milk market is able to achieve healthy and orderly progress in the future.

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