The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) annual analysis shows dairy consumers remain safe when it comes to animal drug residues in milk.
Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

During fiscal year 2018 (FY18, Oct. 1, 2017-Sept, 30, 2018), more than 4 million milk samples were tested for animal drug residues. Of those, just 584 tested positive, with the milk disposed of before it reached consumers, according to FDA’s National Milk Drug Residue Database Fiscal Year 2018 report.

The Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), which governs the state regulatory agencies in the implementation and enforcement of their Grade “A” milk safety program, require that all bulk milk tankers be sampled and analyzed for animal drug residues before the milk is processed. Any bulk milk tanker found positive is rejected for human consumption.

The number of samples testing positive for drug residues in FY18 was down from the year before and the lowest total since 2015. By fiscal year, the number of milk samples testing positive for drug residues was:

  • 2018 – 584
  • 2017 – 605
  • 2016 – 618
  • 2015 – 579
  • 2014 – 703
  • 2013 – 731
  • 2012 – 828

State and local agencies conduct drug residue tests at four “locations”:


• Bulk milk pickup tankers (bulk raw milk from a dairy farm). Samples are taken on receipt of every tanker load at a milk receiving facility. Of nearly 3.6 million samples, 364 (0.01 percent, or 10 thousandths of 1 percent) tested positive, resulting in the disposal of 15.5 million pounds of milk.

• Producer (raw milk obtained from the bulk tank/silo from a dairy farm). Of 355,732 total samples, 210 (0.06 percent) tested positive.

• Other (milk from milk plant tank/silos, milk transport tankers, etc.). Of 55,603 total samples, six (0.011 percent) tested positive.

• Samples of pasteurized fluid milk and milk products (Finished dairy products in bulk or package form, after pasteurization, including milk, cream, condensed and dry milk and milk products, and condensed and dry whey and whey products were tested.) Of 32,847 total samples, four (0.012 tested positive for animal drug residues.

Overall, 16.06 million pounds of milk were found positive for a drug residue and disposed of in FY18, down slightly from FY17’s total of 16.2 million pounds; up from 15.3 million pounds in FY16, but down from 16.8 million pounds in FY15 and 18.1 million pounds in FY14.

Testing for specific drugs

In addition to testing for presence of any drug residues, specific tests seek to identify residues from five different groups or individual drugs, using 22 different testing methods.

Of the 584 testing positive, 578 samples were positive for beta lactams and six were positive for tetracyclines, with no samples testing positive for sulfonamides.

Of the 578 samples positive for beta lactams, 333 were drawn from bulk milk pickup tankers; 183 were in samples drawn from bulk tanks/silos from a dairy farms; and six were from milk plant tank/silos and milk transport tankers.

For the first time in recent history, four of the samples testing positive for beta lactams were in pasteurized milk and milk products. Due to the ongoing government shutdown, Progressive Dairyman was unable to reach FDA officials for additional details on those positive tests.

Mandatory drug residue reporting is required by state regulatory agencies under the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS). NCIMS is a voluntary organization directed and controlled by member states to promote the availability of a high-quality milk supply.

The FDA and the NCIMS, through their collaborative efforts, have developed a cooperative, federal-state program (the Grade “A” Interstate Milk Shippers Program) to ensure the sanitary quality of Grade “A” milk and milk products shipped in interstate commerce.

The National Milk Drug Residue Data Base (NMDRD) is a voluntary industry reporting program, under contract to FDA. Data reported to the NMDRD are for educational and analytical purposes, and are not intended or suitable for regulatory action or follow-up.

The system includes all milk, Grade “A” and non-Grade “A”, commonly known as manufacturing grade. Grade “A” milk represents approximately 99 percent of the milk supply in the U.S. and is regulated through the NCIMS by the state regulatory agencies.

On July 1, 2017, an 18-month pilot project began to test a percentage of bulk milk tankers for tetracyclines. The testing portion of the pilot project was scheduled to be completed on Dec. 31, 2018. The tetracycline data above includes the results of that testing conducted during FY18.  end mark

PHOTO: Getty images.

Dave Natzke