Longtime staffer to lead NMDA’s efforts in ensuring quality of local dairy products

NMDA works to ensure quality of milk
and dairy products made in New Mexico

(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) – New Mexico consistently ranks among the top 10 states in the country in milk production and among the top five in cheese production.  Ever wondered about the regulatory framework for ensuring that all of that milk, cheese, and other dairy products are safe to eat and drink?

New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s (NMDA) Dairy Division conducts sanitary inspections of milking barns and milk-processing facilities, and it samples milk and dairy products – all to ensure the quality of those products.  The Dairy Division’s work covers conventional and certified organic dairies, and it covers dairies where goat’s milk is produced, not just dairies where cow’s milk is produced.  Now that division is undergoing a change in leadership.

Dustin Cox will serve as NMDA’s Dairy Division director after having served for 15 years as an inspector in the same division.  Cox replaces Alf Reeb, who retired June 30 after 25 years of working in state government to ensure the quality of milk and dairy products originating from New Mexico.

“Alf takes with him a tremendous amount of knowledge, but the transition in leadership will be smooth because Dustin brings a tremendous amount of knowledge,” New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte said.  “Going forward, there’s no one better than Dustin to lead NMDA’s efforts to ensure the quality of milk and other dairy products made here in New Mexico.”

Cox grew up on a farm in Bosque Farms and spent summers working with his grandfather, who designed dairy barns and installed milking equipment for a living.  That’s where Cox learned “the importance of keeping equipment clean in order to maintain regulatory compliance”, he said.

Regulatory compliance is precisely the role NMDA plays in New Mexico’s dairy sector.  Cox will oversee a team of inspectors who carry out that work by:

  • collecting samples of milk and dairy products for food safety testing
  • inspecting the sanitation of the facilities in which the cows are milked
  • inspecting the sanitation of processing facilities where raw milk is pasteurized, and where cheese, yogurt, and more are made
  • inspecting the trailers used to haul milk to ensure that they’re sound and sanitary
  • testing and permitting the people who haul milk from the farm to the processing facility to ensure they maintain the food safety of milk during transport

This work is in addition to the work that dairy farmers themselves do to maintain milk quality.  The farmers sample what they feed their dairy cows to make sure it’s good, and then they sample the milk those cows produce.  Every load – that is, all the milk that’s hauled in one of those stainless steel cylindrical trailers you see on the interstate – is tested for quality at the facilities where milk is pasteurized, and where it’s turned into products like cheese and yogurt.

There are approximately 150 dairy farms in New Mexico, as well as 14 facilities where raw milk is processed into pasteurized milk, cheese, yogurt, and more.  The value of raw milk – prior to being pasteurized and turned into high-value products like cheese and ice cream – produced in New Mexico tops $1 billion every year, making it one of the top contributors to the state’s agricultural economy.