Effect Of Bacteria On Milk

( Originally Published 1897 )

The first and most universal change effected in milk is its souring. So universal is this phenomenon that it is generally regarded as an inevitable change which can not be avoided, and, as already pointed out, has in the past been regarded as anormal property of milk. To-day, however, the phenomenon is well understood. It is due to the action of certain of the milk bacteria upon the milk sugar which converts it into lactic acid, and this acid gives the sour taste and curdles the milk. After this acid is produced in small quantity its presence proves deleterious to the growth of the bacteria, and further bacterial growth is checked. After souring, therefore, the milk for some time does not ordinarily undergo any further changes.

Milk souring has been commonly regarded as a single phenomenon, alike in all cases. When it was first studied by bacteriologists it was thought to be due in all cases to a single species of micro-organism which was discovered to be commonly present and named Bacillus acidi lactici. This bacterium has certainly the power of souring milk rapidly, and is found to be very common in dairies in Europe. As soon as bacteriologists turned their attention more closely to the subject it was found that the spontaneous souring of milk was not always caused by the same species of bacterium. Instead of finding this Bacillus acidi lactici always present, they found that quite a number of different species of bacteria have the power of souring milk, and are found in different specimens of soured milk. The number of species of bacteria which have been found to sour milk has increased until something over a hundred are known to have this power. These different species do not affect the milk in the same way. All produce some acid, but they differ in the kind and the amount of acid, and especially in the other changes which are effected at the same time that the milk is soured, so that the resulting soured milk is quite variable. In spite of this variety, however, the most recent work tends to show that the majority of cases of spontaneous souring of milk are produced by bacteria which, though somewhat variable, probably constitute a single species, and are identical with the Bacillus acidi lactici (Fig. '9). This species, found common in the dairies of Europe, ac-cording to recent investigations occurs in this country as well. We may say, then, that while there are many species of bacteria infesting the dairy which can sour the milk, there is one which is more common and more universally found than others, and this is the ordinary cause of milk souring.

When we study more carefully the effect upon the milk of the different species of bacteria found in the dairy, we find that there is a great variety of changes which they produce when they are allowed to grow in milk. The dairyman experiences many troubles with his milk. It sometimes curdles without becoming acid. Sometimes it becomes bitter, or acquires an unpleasant "tainted taste, or, again, a " soapy" taste. Occasionally a dairyman finds his milk becoming slimy, instead of souring and curdling in the normal fashion. At such times, after a number of hours, the milk be-comes so slimy that it can be drawn into long threads. Such an infection proves very trouble-some, for many a time it persists in spite of all attempts made to remedy it. Again, in other cases the milk will turn blue, acquiring about the time it becomes sour a beautiful sky-blue colour. Or it may become red, or occasionally yellow. All of these troubles the dairyman owes to the presence in his milk of unusual species of bacteria which grow there abundantly.

Bacteriologists have been able to make out satisfactorily the connection of all these infections with different species of the bacteria. A large number of species have been found to curdle milk without rendering it acid, several render it bitter, and a number produce a "tainted" and one a "soapy" taste. A score or more have been found which have the power of rendering the milk slimy. Two different species at least have the power of turning the milk to sky blue colour; two or three produce red pigments, and one or two have been found which produce a yellow colour. In short, it has been determined beyond question that all these infections, which are more or less troublesome to dairymen, are due to the growth of unusual bacteria in the milk.

These various infections are all troublesome, and indeed it may be said that, sd far as concerns the milk producer and the milk consumer, bacteria are from beginning to end a source of trouble. It is the desire of the milk producer to avoid them as far as possible—a desire which is shared also by everyone who has anything to do with milk as milk. Having recognised that the various troubles, which occasionally occur even in the better class of dairies, are due to bacteria, the dairyman is, at least in a measure, prepared to avoid them. The avoiding of these troubles is moderately easy as soon as dairymen recognise the source from which the infectious organisms come, and also the fact that low temperatures will in all cases remedy the evil to a large extent. With this knowledge in hand the avoidance of all these troubles is only a question of care in handling the dairy. It must be recognised that most of these troublesome bacteria come from some unusual sources of infection. By unusual sources are meant those which the exercise of care will avoid. It is true that the souring bacteria appear to be so universally distributed that they can not be avoided by any ordinary means. But all other troublesome bacteria appear to be within control. The milkman must remember that the sources of the troubles which are liable to arise in his milk are in some form of filth : either filth on the cow, or dust in the hay which is scattered through the barn, or dirt on cows' udders, or some other unusual and avoid-able source. These sources, from what we have already noticed, will always furnish the milk with bacteria; but under common conditions, and when the cow is kept in conditions of ordinary cleanliness, and frequently even when not cleanly, will only furnish bacteria that produce the universal souring. Recognising this, the dairyman at once learns that his remedies for the troublesome infections are cleanliness and low temperatures. If he is careful to keep his milk vessels scrupulously clean ; if he will keep his cow as cleanly as he does his horse; and if he will use care in and around the barn and dairy, and then apply low temperatures to the milk, he need never be disturbed by slimy or tainted milk, or any of these other troubles or he can remove such infections. speedily should they once appear. Pure sweet milk is only a question of sufficient care. But care means labour and expense. As long as we demand cheap milk, so long will we be supplied with milk procured under conditions of filth. But when we learn that cheap milk is poor milk, and when we are willing to pay a little more for it, then only may we expect the use of greater care in the handling of the milk, resulting in a purer product.

Bacteriology has therefore taught us that the whole question of the milk supply in our communities is one of avoiding the too rapid growth of bacteria. These organisms are uniformly a nuisance to the milkman. To avoid their evil influence have been designed all the methods of caring for the dairy and the barn, all the methods of distributing milk in ice cars. Moreover, all the special devices connected with the great industry of milk supply have for their foundation the at-tempt to avoid, in the first place, the presence of too great a number of bacteria, and. in the second place, the growth of these bacteria.

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