The dairy farm always has been and continues to be a "food manufacturing facility." Everyday it produces raw milk, dairy beef and liquid and solid nutrients for cropland. It doesn't matter if you milk 30 cows or 30,000, the current business and regulatory climate dictates new approaches to new challenges. Therefore, we must manage the dairy production unit as a "mini-ecosystem" for animal health, animal well-being, public health, environmental health and the financial bottom line.

As a food manufacturing facility, dairy producers are members of the food production chain. Once the food products leave the farm, other members of the food production chain - processors, transportation industries, retailers - take responsibility to manufacture and deliver safe, wholesome products to consumers within our nation. In addition, globalization of the dairy product markets puts all members of the food production chain under the scrutiny of the World Trade Organization and regulatory agencies of other countries - all of whom are concerned about food safety. That's where HACCP comes into play.

HACCP (pronounced "hassip") stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. It is a management tool designed to identify problems before they occur and put in place standard operating procedures, personnel training and monitoring procedures to maintain an excellent-quality product through highly consistent process management. This food manufacturing approach is more important to dairy producers and processors than ever before because of food safety issues, biosecurity concerns and the economic well-being of our industry.

How it works
So, how do you do HACCP down on the farm or in the processing plant? It begins with a change in mind-set to develop a true "food manufacturing culture." Each owner, manager and employee must take personal responsibility to assure that a high-quality product reaches the consumer.

A solid way to accomplish this is Dairy Breakthrough Management (Dairy-BTM). Dairy-BTM involves team-building, proactive listening, problem-solving, and process management. With it, you break the production process down into small modules - maternity pen, milking parlor, calf feeding. Then, you write a mission statement and create standard operating procedures for each module. Forms for training, evaluating and monitoring are required, also.

Through the use of BTM, every dairy and member of the food production chain can adhere to HACCP guidelines. However, it's not a matter of just wanting to do it anymore.

Through Congressional passage of the 1997 Food Safety Act, processing plants and retail stores are required to have a HACCP program in place. The Food Safety Act requires monitoring for potential food safety hazards, thus enhancing the safety of our food supply. The next step will be taking HACCP to the farm.

This is not about "corporate farm vs. family farm." It's about functioning in a global economy to assure we can continue to produce a safe, wholesome product for our children and others around the world. It requires a change in our daily mind-set.

Fortunately, business solutions like BTM are available and adaptable to dairy farms and processing plants anywhere in this country. Implementing HACCP to protect the food supply is truly a win/win for producers, processors and our consumers.

Jim Cullor is the director of the Dairy Food Safety Lab at the Veterinary Medicine, Teaching and Research Center, University of California at Davis.