I have been working to begin processing cheese on my farm. I have an adjoining milk parlor and milk house. I am hopeful I can temporarily process milk in my milk house. The fire risk is minimal in both sections.
I have seen and spoken with many people who claim that their operations classification is agricultural when processing their farms' milk into cheese only on a very small scale. Our county building department believes that this is a commercial operation, and the resulting change in classification requires a firewall between uses on the farm.
In the state of Colorado, there are very few examples, if any, of this type of operation. I have heard that in other states, Wisconsin primarily, processing of milk into cheese on a farm is simply an extension of an agricultural operation. Is this true? And if your area is set up this way, could you please help me get this information to my local county officials and Extension office? I feel that not only the processing of milk but of any other farm product, such as lettuce, should be considered agricultural.
My area of expertise is food safety so I cannot address your question about operation classification. However, I can share information about the food safety risks associated with cheese to shed some light on the reasoning behind regulations and restrictions related to cheese production. In a review of food-borne illness outbreaks from 1998 to 2008, cheese was reported as the implicated food vehicle in 68 outbreaks, resulting in 1519 illnesses, 178 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths. After this report, in 2010, a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with Bravo Farms’ cheese included 11 cases in Colorado. A multistate outbreak in 2012 of Listeria monocytogenes was associated with ricotta cheese, and four deaths were associated with this outbreak.
As you can see, it is critical that good manufacturing practices be followed in cheese production facilities. The same is true with lettuce, which, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is actually the commodity most frequently found to be the source of food-borne illness outbreaks. There are considerable safety differences between raw agricultural products and ready-to-eat products, and this is why there must be regulatory differences pertaining to operations that produce the two different types of products.