GAPING leaks in the dairy value chain, as an investigation of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority has found, keeps causing widespread microbial contamination in the pasteurisation of cow milk. The investigation, which run test on samples covering all the registered pasteurised milk brands collected at three stages of pasteurisation, transport and retail, has found the presence of bacteria, including Escherichia coli, at levels higher than permissible. The investigation was done at the order that the High Court gave in June and the findings were submitted to the court in October. The laboratory test results were shocking enough to force the people running the investigation to undertake an immediate inspection of the pasteurisation plants at hand. Two of the plants, in Kushtia and Pabna, were in a deplorable condition and the inspectors closed all their operations. The team has found plants of five other companies in a better shape but the team sounded warning for them as they were not up to the standards. Eleven companies are now reported to be in the business of cow milk pasteurisation and a half of them running below standards exposes public health to serious threats. An ICDDR,B research in May found three-fourths of the pasteurised milk unsafe for direct human consumption.
The supply chain of pasteurised milk, from transport to retailers, is also fraught with technical problems. None of the companies are found to have maintained a proper cold chain in the process. In pasteurisation, milk is heated to a certain temperature for a certain period to kill disease-causing organisms. While most of the plants do not maintain the standard protocol of pasteurisation for lack of technical knowledge and training, the cow milk also becomes contaminated after pasteurisation as it needs to be stored in temperature below 4 degrees Celsius, or 39 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cold chain is not maintained along the supply chain, organisms still present in the milk turn pathogenic in half an hour to an hour in weather condition that is typical of Bangladesh. The Food Safety Authority team has found that many of the vans that the companies use to supply retailers with pasteurised milk have no cooling system. A member on the team even said that a half of 48 vans that the state-owned milk producer Milk Vita uses did not have the cooling system. Besides, most of the retailers keep the pasteurised milk stacked on the store shelves and as the milk remains there for days, it gets contaminated again.
The government, under the circumstances, must shrug off its indifference towards public health and must also make companies producing and marketing pasteurised milk adhere to the standard protocols of the trade. In so doing, it must redesign the whole of the pasteurisation process in practice.
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