Resources for Small Scale Processors
We have compiled useful guidance to start you down the path towards success. Browse our lists of resources using the following tabs. Reach out to our team at any time.
Before starting or expanding your business, some general questions must be answered. Each section below includes important topics to consider and plan.
You will need at least one person dedicated to this aspect of the business. It is unwise to have this person going back and forth between farm operations and processing operations.
- Will your current milk market or cooperative allow you to do on-farm processing and ship your excess milk to them?
- Some cooperatives do not while some cooperatives will allow it depending on the product that you are marketing,
Volume and Products
- What is the expected volume of milk that you will be processing?
- How many days per week will you be processing?
- Some farmstead operations only process 1-3 times per week, while others utilize the facility more.
- Number of processing days influences your labor force.
- What types of products will you be producing?
- This has a major impact on facility design and required equipment.
- Prepare a general plan of:
- Product(s) to be made
- Type and size of container required, including labels
- Ingredients, volumes, and product storage
- Product(s) to be made
Many processors fall into the "if I build it, they will come" trap. Much of your time as a processor will be spent marketing and selling your products.
Make a marketing plan including:
- Who is going to be leading marketing efforts
- What are the products that you are marketing
- How are you planning on convincing your target market to choose your product
- Social media, trade shows, cold calls, online, retailers
- When are these marketing activities going to happen
- This is also dependent on who is doing the marketing activities
- Market considerations
- Are there similar products sold in your area?
- Are there local retailers to can sell direct to consumers?
- Are you planning your own direct to consumer sales?
Third-party audits are driven by retailers to ensure that their food suppliers are following best practices that go above and beyond the bare minimum regulatory requirements. These take training, time and money, but can be necessary to gain access into to certain markets, especially retail. This also represents a heavy documentation and food safety programming time commitment.
Working with regulators, at the state and federal level, ensures that your business is complaint with regulations. Get to know your state inspector and the regulations pertinent to your business
NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets
The Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services is responsible for all aspects of the State’s dairy industry. The Division has a dual role to protect the health and welfare of the people of New York State and to help promote the agricultural economic development of the dairy industry through various economic controls and programs.
- Area Inspectors
- Part 2 Regulation-required permit for a dairy plant
- Processing Plant Superintendent
- Required for every plant in New York State. Prospective PPS must complete an interview before the plant is permitted to open. Annual training required.
- Interstate Milk Shippers
- If you are planning on shipping milk across state lines, an inspection called a 'rating' is required to be included on the Interstate Milk Shippers (IMS) list.
- Pasteurized Milk Ordinance
- NYS has adopted to PMO as its regulation. While it does not have to be memorized, it is valuable to be familiar with it.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The Food and Drug Administration is a scientific regulatory agency responsible for the safety of the nation's domestically produced and imported foods, cosmetics, drugs, biologics, medical devices, and radiological products. The FDA provides the reasonable definition of standards of identity, quality standards, product fill/weight requirements, and protection from adulteration.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011. This modifies the current legislation to establish increased oversight by the FDA. While certain aspects of the law continue to be written, topics include:
- Mandatory preventative controls for food facilities
- Authority to prevent intentional contamination
- Records access
- Mandated inspection frequency, based upon risk level
- Enhanced product traceability
- Registration of food facilities
- Enhanced import control
Specific training on FSMA regulations is available, both as a standard workshop or as an in-plant training.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) describe the methods, equipment, facilities, and controls for producing processed food. As the minimum sanitary and processing requirements for producing safe and wholesome food, they are an important part of regulatory control over the safety of the nation's food supply. The GMP regulation (Part 117 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations) has been in effect for over 30 years and is periodically revised.
- Environmental monitoring is required for all facilities producing a ready-to-eat (RTE) food that is exposed to the environment during processing.
- What are environmental swabs?
- Environmental swabs are special sponges that are sent to lab to be tested for pathogens such as Listeria moncytogenes or Salmonella.
- If pathogens are present in your facility, it is better to find them before they contaminate your product.
- Sampling Budget
- Each swab id $25-$30.
- You must utilize a lab that using an approved method to test for your specific pathogens of concern.
- Dairy Foods extension offers an annual course in Environmental Monitoring to assist you in developing a plan.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
Cleaning and sanitizing protocols are essential to the success of any business, regardless of size.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Use chemicals that are specifically formulated for use in human food processing. Do not use the general chemicals that you ay use in a raw milk house.
- Chemicals must be formulated to remove soils generated by heat treatments.
- It is important to work with reputable chemical companies who specialize in food manufacturing.
- Additional information on Cleaning and Sanitizing as well as additional GMPs may be found on our Good Manufacturing Practices page.
- Dairy Foods Extension offers a wide array of training programs including courses in food safety, food processing, regulatory compliance, and specialized courses.
- Full descriptions of our courses may be found on our Training Programs page
- To register for any of our courses, visit our course calendar page.
- Specific questions regarding training programs may be directed to our program coordinator, lmf226 [at] cornell.edu (Louise Felker).
Voluntary Shelf-Life Program (Pasteurized Fluid Milk)
- This free program, funded by NYS dairy farmers, evaluates the quality of fluid milk over its shelf-life. Sensory and microbiological testing in conducted on the fluid milk samples and provides processors with results
- Team will troubleshoot and help to identify where issues originate.
- Core samples are collected twice annually.
- Participation in the program can begin when processing begins.
Pilot Plant / Food Development & Processing Lab
- Experienced full-time staff professionals are able to assist you in all aspects of food product development and processing.
- You can visit our facilities and work collaboratively with our personnel, or the staff of the Food Development & Processing Lab (FPDL) can process your product to your specifications and ship it to you overnight. Customized pilot plant product runs can be conducted with our established access to ingredients and raw materials.
Raw Milk Position Statement
Building Design and Equipment
Before beginning construction, it is important to creat a general plan which includes:
- Facility: Farm or plant
- Diagram of proposed rooms including product intake, raw product storage, processing area, boiler room, laboratory, dry storage, refrigerated storage, floor drains, toilet and septic facilities, and ventilation.
- Note and discuss building material types and lighting to be used
- Indicate equipment location with size dimensions and distance between the equipment and adjacent equipment, wall, or doors
- Equipment cannot be located over floor drains!
- Avoid overhead condensation issues: do not place food contact surfaces under pipes/equipment that may lead to condensation drippage onto food products
- Consider steam generation rather than electric for vat pasteurization--this creates more efficient heating
- Regulatory considerations
- Plan a budget for 12-18 months of regulatory proceeding with NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets
- Reach out to area supervisor before breaking ground
- If you do not include NYSDAM in the planning process, you will likely have issues that you will need to correct which could ultimately cost more time and monetary resources.
- The Dairy Foods Extension team can review your plans and identify problems at this preliminary stage
- Resources for plant and equipment design include: