Antibiotic Residue in Milk

The Milk You Buy in Stores is Antibiotic Free

-by Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County would like to offer research-based information concerning Antibiotic Presence in Dairy Products. Antibiotic use in agriculture has been in the news a lot lately as consumers question product safety. There has been extensive research done ensure the safety of dairy products and their antibiotic free status.

Our county is home to more than 200 dairy farms that produce enough milk to meet the dairy needs of nearly 700,000 people. These farms operate under strict federal and state regulations that ensure the safety of their end product.

On farm, owners, supervisors, and employees all work together with the herd veterinarian to keep cows healthy and happy. This involves daily monitoring of the animals’ appearance, food intake, milk production, and general vigor while using herd management strategies that promote animal well-being like vaccination regiments, cow comfort measures, and highly nutritious food rations. However, just like humans, sometimes cows get sick and require antibiotics.

Veterinarians help the farm to set up protocols that determine when an antibiotic is medically necessary to save the animal so she will be able to return as a productive member of the herd. The vet will also help to determine what type and amount of antibiotics need to be used to target the illness-causing bacteria.

Once the animal’s condition warrants antibiotic use, the treatment is administered according to labeling requirements and documented in the farm’s written records, just like it would be when a human visits the doctor. Her milk is also kept separate from milk for human consumption to assure it does not enter the food chain. The milk is withheld for a certain number of days, as dictated by the type of drug used, to ensure that she has enough time to process and metabolize the antibiotics that were used. When the milk is free of drug residue, it can enter the general milk supply again.

Every truck load of milk, whether it is organically or conventionally produced, is tested for antibiotics before it reaches the milk plant. Once the truck reaches the milk plant, if any of the milk tests positive for antibiotics, the entire truck load is discarded. Final dairy products are also tested for antibiotic residue periodically.

Dairy farmers face harsh penalties if they sell milk that contains antibiotics, including steep financial fees and even the loss of their license to ship milk. Because of this, farmers only use antibiotics when medically necessary, and keep the treated animals’ milk separate until it is safe for consumption once again. Many farms even have on farm tests that they can run themselves to ensure the residue-free status of milk.

The antibiotics that farmers use are tested with the same stringent and extensive methods that drugs produced for human use undergo. They come with specific and thorough instructions for use, and are regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

In March of this year, the FDA released at study entitled “Milk Drug Residue Sampling Survey” that is available on their website. In the study they tested for drug residue in milk from farms that had previous violations and in a control group representing the dairy industry as a whole. In the study they found that less than 1% of samples contained drug residue. It is important to note that these samples were taken at the farm level, once the milk was retested at the milk plant, it was discarded based on its residue status. The study ultimately showed that over 99% of our country’s dairy farms are in compliance with existing regulations, which is an astounding accomplishment that showcases the dairy industry’s commitment to providing safe, wholesome products for us all to enjoy.

The FDA also collects data from all of the farm milk tested for antibiotics every year. In 2014, 3.14 million milk samples were taken at the farm level, and only 0.014% tested positive for antibiotics at the milk plant (and were then discarded). In 2002 that number was 0.061%, and the percent of antibiotic traces in milk samples continues to decrease even further every year. The entire industry’s goal is to reach 0%.

The United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, and dairy products are among the most regulated, inspected, and tested products in the food system. If you would like more information about the use of antibiotics on dairy farms, turn to resources from organizations such as the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), FDA (Food and Drug Administration), IMPF (International Milk Producers Federation), NYSCHAP (New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program) and

What does this all mean for consumers? The milk and dairy products you buy in the store does not contain antibiotics, and the animals that the products come from are healthy and are only treated with antibiotics when medically necessary.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County encourages consumers to get to know your local farmer and where your food comes from! For more information, contact Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County at 716-664-9502 ext. 202 or

CCE-Chautauqua is a community based educational organization, affiliated with Cornell University, Chautauqua County Government, the NYS SUNY system, and the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture that provides programming in accordance with Chautauqua County’s 20/20 comprehensive plan. For more information, call 716-664-9502 or visit our website at Cornell University Cooperative Extension provides equal program and employment opportunities.


Katelyn Walley-Stoll
Agriculture Program Community Educator, Farm Business Management
716-664-9502 ext. 202

Last updated August 5, 2015