Milk Cooling

Cooling milk rapidly is essential for inhibiting bacterial growth and maintaining good milk quality in vat bulk milk.

Milk cooling standards

The quicker milk is cooled after milking, the better the quality. As outlined by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), milk must be chilled to 5°C or less within three and a half hours from the start of milking. Milk should be kept at, or below, 5°C until collected from the farm.

Milk that is collected within that three-and-a-half-hour period, which is still measuring above 5°C (for example if the tanker arrives before chilling is complete), will be subject to a risk assessment by the milk processor. Milk that fails this risk assessment cannot be used for human consumption.

Most food safety programs require dairy farmers to monitor and record milk cooling performance and ensure bulk tank thermometers are calibrated regularly.


Plate heat exchangers (PHE), or plate coolers, are the most efficient way to reduce milk temperature quickly after milking.

A PHE consists of very thin stainless-steel plates where water and/or coolant (for example, glycol) flows along one side of each plate and milk flows along the other. This allows heat to be exchanged from the milk to the water or coolant, via the plate. The capacity of a PHE is adjusted by adding or removing plates.

Some practical tips for peak pre-cooling performance include:

  • Regularly check PHE effectiveness. The temperature difference between the incoming water or coolant and outgoing milk should be no greater than 2°C. For example, if water entering the PHE is 10°C, outgoing milk should be no greater than 12°C. Temperatures can be measured by applying a PVC strip thermometer to the water or coolant inflow and milk outflow pipes.
  • The ratio of flow rates between the water and milk is critical. A ratio of between 2:1 and 3:1 of water to milk flow rate is required.
  • If the gap between the end-plates is too small, the flow through the plate cooler will be impeded and performance can be compromised. Allow 2-3 mm/plate (refer to manufacturer’s specifications for further details).
  • If a plate cooler is not working efficiently, it should be checked by a refrigeration technician.
  • The plant wash should always be run with a filter sock in place to keep the PHE clean Blockages caused by build-up of soiling material within the platesreduce cooling performance.

Vats and chilling systems

Milk cooling may account for as much as 30 per cent of the total energy costs of operating a dairy. By adopting changes that recover heat  from the cooling system energy demands and operating costs can be reduced.

Cooling milk in the vat is influenced by various factors, including:

  • Vat design.
  • Type of refrigeration unit.
  • Volume of milk to be cooled.
  • Schedule of pick-ups.
  • Prevailing environmental conditions.

There are several key facts to consider when deciding on a refrigeration system:

Direct expansion

The most common system and best choice if access to power and reliability of supply is not a problem. Plate coolers significantly reduce size and operating costs of refrigeration units.

Scroll compressor refrigeration units

Scroll compressors are 10 to 15 per cent more energy efficient compared with traditional ‘open drive’ units. They are now available for large capacity vats (>30,000 litres).

Open drive compressor refrigeration units

Traditional design, known for their reliability but less energy efficient that comparable scroll compressors.

Thermal storage systems

Less energy efficient than direct expansion but may be the only option if grid power is limited. Initial capital costs are higher than direct expansion systems. Economics become more favourable for larger herds producing more than 15,000L/day (individual circumstances greatly influence the economics).

On demand thermal storage systems (chiller units)

Require a smaller quantity of cooling medium (usually glycol), but chiller unit needs to be larger to cope with demand. More costly to operate than other systems during milking (often at peak tariff rates).

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