Dairy Microbiology

17 Microorganisms in Milk

Milk is sterile at secretion in the udder but is contaminated by bacteria even before it leaves the udder. Except in the case of mastisis, the bacteria at this point are harmless and few in number. Further infection of the milk by microorganisms can take place during milking, handling, storage, and other pre-processing activities.

Lactic acid bacteria:

this group of bacteria are able to ferment lactose to lactic acid. They are normally present in the milk and are also used as starter cultures in the production of cultured dairy products such as yogurt. Note: many lactic acid bacteria have recently been reclassified; the older names will appear in brackets as you will still find the older names used for convenience sake in a lot of literature. Some examples in milk are:

  • lactococci
    • L. delbrueckii subsp. lactis (Streptococcus lactis )
    • Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris (Streptococcus cremoris )
  • lactobacilli
    • Lactobacillus casei
    • L.delbrueckii subsp. lactis (L. lactis )
    • L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus

(Lactobacillus bulgaricus)

  • Leuconostoc


coliforms are facultative anaerobes with an optimum growth at 37° C. Coliforms are indicator organisms; they are closely associated with the presence of pathogens but not necessarily pathogenic themselves. They also can cause rapid spoilage of milk because they are able to ferment lactose with the production of acid and gas, and are able to degrade milk proteins. They are killed by HTST treatment, therefore, their presence after treatment is indicative of contamination.Escherichia coli is an example belonging to this group.

Significance of microorganisms in milk:

  • Information on the microbial content of milk can be used to judge its sanitary quality and the conditions of production
  • If permitted to multiply, bacteria in milk can cause spoilage of the product
  • Milk is potentially susceptible to contamination with pathogenic microorganisms. Precautions must be taken to minimize this possibility and to destroy pathogens that may gain entrance
  • Certain microorganisms produce chemical changes that are desirable in the production of dairy products such as cheese, yogurt.

Spoilage Microorganisms in Milk

The microbial quality of raw milk is crucial for the production of quality dairy foods. Spoilage is a term used to describe the deterioration of a foods’ texture, colour, odour or flavour to the point where it is unappetizing or unsuitable for human consumption. Microbial spoilage of food often involves the degradation of protein, carbohydrates, and fats by the microorganisms or their enzymes.

In milk, the microorganisms that are principally involved in spoilage are psychrotrophic organisms. Most psychrotrophs are destroyed by pasteurization temperatures, however, some like Pseudomonas fluorescens, Pseudomonas fragi can produce proteolytic and lipolytic extracellular enzymes which are heat stable and capable of causing spoilage.

Some species and strains of Bacillus, Clostridium, Cornebacterium, Arthrobacter, Lactobacillus, Microbacterium, Micrococcus, and Streptococcus can survive pasteurization and grow at refrigeration temperatures which can cause spoilage problems.

Pathogenic Microorganisms in Milk

Hygienic milk production practices, proper handling and storage of milk, and mandatory pasteurization has decreased the threat of milkborne diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, and typhoid fever. There have been a number of foodborne illnesses resulting from the ingestion of raw milk, or dairy products made with milk that was not properly pasteurized or was poorly handled causing post-processing contamination. The following bacterial pathogens are still of concern today in raw milk and other dairy products:
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Yersinia enterocolitica
  • Salmonella spp.
  • Escherichia coli O157:H7
  • Campylobacter jejuni

It should also be noted that moulds, mainly of species of Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium can grow in milk and dairy products. If the conditions permit, these moulds may produce mycotoxins which can be a health hazard.


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Dairy Science and Technology eBook Copyright © by H. Douglas Goff; Arthur Hill; and Mary Ann Ferrer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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