The Core and Seasonal Microbiota of Raw Bovine Milk in Tanker Trucks and the Impact of Transfer to a Milk Processing Facility

mBio. 2016 Aug 23;7(4):e00836-16. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00836-16.


Currently, the bacterial composition of raw milk in tanker trucks and the outcomes of transfer and storage of that milk at commercial processing facilities are not well understood. We set out to identify the bacteria in raw milk collected for large-scale dairy product manufacturing. Raw bovine milk samples from 899 tanker trucks arriving at two dairy processors in San Joaquin Valley of California during three seasons (spring, summer, and fall) were analyzed by community 16S rRNA gene sequencing. This analysis revealed highly diverse bacterial populations, which exhibited seasonal differences. Raw milk collected in the spring contained the most diverse bacterial communities, with the highest total cell numbers and highest proportions being those of Actinobacteria Even with this complexity, a core microbiota was present, consisting of 29 taxonomic groups and high proportions of Streptococcus and Staphylococcus and unidentified members of Clostridiales Milk samples were also collected from five large-volume silos and from 13 to 25 tankers whose contents were unloaded into each of them during 2 days in the summer. Transfer of the milk to storage silos resulted in two community types. One group of silos contained a high proportion of Streptococcus spp. and was similar in that respect to the tankers that filled them. The community found in the other group of silos was distinct and dominated by Acinetobacter Overall, despite highly diverse tanker milk community structures, distinct milk bacterial communities were selected within the processing facility environment. This knowledge can inform the development of new sanitation procedures and process controls to ensure the consistent production of safe and high-quality dairy products on a global scale.

Importance: Raw milk harbors diverse bacteria that are crucial determinants of the quality and safety of fluid milk and (fermented) dairy products. These bacteria enter farm milk during transport, storage, and processing. Although pathogens are destroyed by pasteurization, not all bacteria and their associated enzymes are eliminated. Our comprehensive analyses of the bacterial composition of raw milk upon arrival and shortly after storage at major dairy processors showed that the communities of milk microbiota are highly diverse. Even with these differences, there was a core microbiota that exhibited distinct seasonal trends. Remarkably, the effects of the processing facility outweighed those of the raw milk microbiome and the microbial composition changed distinctly within some but not all silos within a short time after transfer. This knowledge can be used to inform cleaning and sanitation procedures as well as to enable predictions of the microbial communities in raw milk that result in either high-quality or defective products.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Biota*
  • California
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Dairying / instrumentation*
  • Milk / microbiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Seasons
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S