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How to check quality of milk after buying from the ATM

The shift from buying milk sold in plastic containers to that distributed through Anytime Milk Machines (ATM) has been lauded as a milk retailing innovation in the country.

The ATMs have enabled consumers to buy quality and safe milk. However, while this is true to a large extent, studies have shown that milk adulteration, bacterial contamination and chemical preservatives are also present in ATM milk.

A recent study on milk ATMs showed 55.3 per cent, 18.4 per cent, 23.7 per cent, 6.3 per cent and 7.6 per cent of milk sampled from various ATMs had not complied with the set standards for solids, total viable bacterial count, total coliform counts, hydrogen peroxide and presence of antibiotics respectively.

In yet another study, 55 per cent of the sampled milk from ATMs in one city had hydrogen peroxide while 23 per cent had bacterial contamination.

Buyers should, therefore, strive to double-check the quality and safety of milk purchased for various reasons, which include sensitivity of the target consumer such as babies, the need to get a constant supplier, to be sure and health implications of contaminated milk.

Milk ATMs

The milk vending machines are used for dispensing pasteurised and homogenised milk starting from 200ml. They are made of materials that are approved to handle food and have a refrigerated system that ensures milk is stored at 4OC.

The safety and quality assurance of milk from ATMs, coupled with their ability to dispense required amounts of milk, preservation ability, fair price as compared to packaged milk, record-keeping by the machine and the prior processing of raw milk has led to exponential growth of the technology. By the beginning of 2018, 500 ATMs had been registered across the country.

Milk sold through the machines can get contaminated/adulterated by physical materials (dirt or dust), chemicals (preservatives like hydrogen peroxide) and drug residues. Factors that contribute to milk contamination include the fluid nature of the product that allows it to mix easily with other substances like water, greed, demand and supply gap, which leads to addition of water to increase the volume, perishable nature of milk that leads to addition of chemical preservatives, low purchasing power of some consumers who insist on lowered prices forcing traders to add cheaper substances, weak legal/standard enforcement, and unavailability of milk testing laboratories.


Milk adulteration is the deliberate addition of substances that affect the quality and safety of milk while contamination might not be intentional. Some of the common milk adulterants include hydrogen peroxide (for milk preservation and prolonging of shelf-life) and water (for extending the volume) while bacterial contamination occurs before milking through infection of the udder (mastitis) or after milking.

Simple tests to detect milk adulteration/contamination

Although these tests can be used for any milk, the ATM milk is overemphasised here due to the rapid expansion of the technology. Test strips and lactometer used for these tests are available in agrovet shops, with the former retailing at less than Sh150 while the latter at Sh500. The latter is a long term use tool.

General milk adulteration examination:

1. Put a drop of milk on a polished vertical surface/wall. If it stops or flows slowly, leaving a white trail behind, then it is of good quality. Milk contaminated with water flows faster.

2. Boil a glass of milk on low heat while stirring it with a spoon until all the water evaporates. If the resulting solid is oily, then it is pure milk. If it is rock solid, most likely the milk had been adulterated.

Hydrogen peroxide

Dip a hydrogen peroxide test strip in a teaspoonful of milk. Colour change, for example, in the Quantofix paper from white to blue is an indication of hydrogen peroxide in the milk.

Water addition

Dip a lactometer in a glass of milk and check the reading. Most lactometers indicate whether a quarter, half or more water has been added. Density of pure milk is 1.028g/ml-1.036 g/ml (28-32 on the lactometer).

Mastitis/microbial contamination

Put a drop of milk on the test spot of a mastitis indicator paper. Colour change for example yellow to green for Kerbl paper is an indication of mastitis.

Packaged/powdered/UHT Milk

Smell, taste and appearance play a role in detection of the above substances but one should have used them previously to be able to identify them

Dr Mwirigi is a livestock production

Limitation and opportunities of the automatic milk ATM dispensing machines

Packaged milk is not very popular with consumers, particularly because of its high cost as compared to raw produce or that sold through vending machines.

However, there are many factors that now favour packaged milk enhancing its competitiveness in the market.

These include the limitation and opportunities of the automatic milk dispensing machine, expanded market, availability of processing capacity and advances in packaging technology.

Limitations of the automatic milk dispensing machines

The milk vending machines popularly known as ATMs are an innovation that raised consumer confidence in produce that is not packaged.

The milk is popular because of its low price (about half that of packaged milk), constant availability, traceability and absence of odour found in some forms of packaged milk.

Other motivations include the fact that the milk is homogenised (thus fat globules are evenly distributed) and

it is pasteurised. The heat treatment reduces the level of micro-organisms that cause diseases and spoilage to acceptable levels, thus converting the raw milk to a ready-to-take drink. Further, milk ATM business is easy to start and operate hence attracting a wide range of investors that include retail shops, farms, cooperative societies, self-help groups, supermarkets and milk bars. Certainly, the milk ATM is a game changer in milk marketing. However, recent studies have shown that in future, consumer might shift to packaged milk.

One study that explored the consumer perception of produce sold through ATMs showed that the general consumer imagination is that such milk is safer than raw and is as safe as that which is packaged. However, field observations on the same issue displayed evidence of intentional non-compliant behaviour that exposes consumers to serious health hazards.

This include sale of raw milk contrary to the regulatory requirement of pasteurised produce. Contributing factors to this scenario include the high cost of servicing the ATMs, coupled with costly licensing fees (58.4 per cent and 24 per cent respectively of the operating costs) and negligence.

Irregular electricity supply contributes to inadequate milk cooling enhancing its spoilage. The research thus concluded that the ATM milk retailing does not guarantee quality and safety to consumers. It is thus recommended that the milk is boiled to enhance safety.

Adulteration of milk with chemicals, water and other ingredients has also been identified as a malpractice in the trade especially when the milk is not sold. Instead, it is stored and dispensed from aluminum milk cans that are placed inside an ATM to improve consumer confidence. These safety and quality regulation concerns are endearing the consumer to packaged milk.

Another issue with the ATMs is that the technology is projected to grow at a steady rate and could hit a saturation point sooner. The growth curve of the business that started in 2005 will thus flatten, making it unable to handle increased milk whose production is projected to surge from the 5.2 billion litres in 2019 to 12 billion litres per annum by 2030.

Although homogenisation has been a plus for the ATMs, consumer preference is changing to fat-free milk (skimmed), or standardised milk with known quantities of fat.

Importation of ATM machines is falling and they are being replaced by locally fabricated ones with some imported components. Concerns around the locally assembled machines include their compliance with food safety specifications, calibration accuracy, automation and flow sensors and monitors of required parameters such as temperature. This raises fears especially when regulatory gaps such as in licensing have been observed.

For example, the 2019 study by Tassmatt that examined Milk ATMs in highly populated areas of Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kajiado, Machakos and Uasin Gishu found out of the 162 sampled, 24 per cent of them had not been registered by the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB), the regulatory agent.

ATM opportunities

It is projected that ATMs will have a countrywide distribution thus the marketing infrastructure that has the premises, personnel and cooling equipment should be taken advantage of to sell packaged milk as well. However, ATMs’ milk competitive prices will always prevail as long as the consumer is assured of its quality and safety.

Counties involvement

County governments in high dairy potential areas have in the recent past promoted dairy through artificial insemination (AI) and milk preservation through distribution of coolers to organised farmer groups.
By 2019, over 500 coolers had been issued out. AI leads to increased milk production through improved breeds while coolers reduce post-harvest spoilage.

The involvement of county governments is made easy by the presence of regulations such the 2013 National Dairy Development Policy that aims at promoting milk processing and exportation, among many other intentions. Other policy incentives include tax rebates on new investments such as zero-rating of milk processing inputs and making it illegal to hawk raw milk.

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Expanded market

Although at times there is influx of milk from neighbouring countries like Uganda, the competitiveness of Kenya’s dairy sector is superior in the region. For example, a 2019 annual milk production report gave production figures of 5.2 billion litres (Kenya), 2.2 billion (Uganda), 2.5 billion (Tanzania) and 4.6 billion (Sudan). Milk packaging increases its shelf-life hence expansion of the export market. The regional integration and cross-border trade among the seven East Africa Community member countries, therefore, offers a good outlet for packaged milk.

Processing capacity

Milk processing experienced a drawback in 1990s when the publicly owned Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) collapsed. However, this attracted the private sector into the industry. In 2019, there were 29 licensed milk processors and 67 dairies with a processing capacity of 3.75 million litres per day, which is approximately 46 per cent of the capacity that was there in 2018.

Advances in processing and packaging technologies

In the recent past, advances in milk processing and packaging technologies have improved the quality, safety and shelf-life of fluid milk, thus making packaged milk affordable to the consumer. The innovations are in separation, standardisation of milk fat, pasteurisation, homogenisation and packaging. For example, the current centrifugation equipment for separation of milk constituents has the ability to self-clean of any dirt and sludge with minimal loss of milk.

Standardisation involves online rapid analysis of milk fat with automated feedback adjustments so that the fat content is maintained at the desired levels, plate pasteurisation has led to 94 per cent recovery of heat thus saving on energy cost and environmental pollution which comes about with energy production and milk pasteurisation machines can now produce as much as 200,000 litres per hour. Over the years, milk packaging has shifted from cans to glass and plastic bottles, to paperboard coated with polyethylene and to the milk pouch now common in the market.

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Milk ATMs And Milk Pasteurizer Lifts Chamaa Group Fortunes In Meru

For years, farmers in Charuru, Muthara ward of Meru County, relied on tea and coffee, offering little attention to dairy farming.

A majority reared two cows at most for their subsistence and sold the surplus milk to vendors often for as low as Sh30 a litre.

The farmers would always complain and one of their own, Gertrude Imaana, sought to change the tide.

Living and working in Canada where dairy farming is a huge enterprise, Gertrude knew the farmers in her village were sitting on gold and only needed help to actualise their potential.

She started by organising them into a group of 15 members in 2016, and helped them come up with guidelines on how to manage the outfit.

This included electing officials, drafting a constitution, laying down penalties for members who miss meetings or fail to honour their financial obligations.

Members agreed to contribute Sh6,500 as registration fee and remit Sh300 each month, allowing farmers to take loans from the pool.

“We started by collecting the little milk produced and selling locally at Sh50 a litre but we soon discovered a huge demand of the produce in the nearby market centre named Muriri. Each farmer was contributing two to three litres raising up to 70 litres,” recounts Gertrude, who holds a Masters in Education degree.

The group later established five collection points to ensure efficiency in milk delivery, with the number of farmers joining the outfit named Chatime Jabali Group growing to 30.

To avoid adulteration and ensure quality milk, an alcohol test is conducted at the collection centre every time milk is delivered.

Farmers are also advised to observe hygiene practices by ensuring that their milk containers are clean, disinfected, sterilised and dried in the sun.

The farmers are further asked to keep milk awaiting transportation in a shade or in a well-ventilated room. Under warm climate, bacteria in milk grows quickly.

“With the number of milk having surged, we established three selling points; two in Muriri and one in Charuru and bought two small freezers at Sh100,000 from our savings to ensure that the milk is cooled and maintained at temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius,” says Morris Mutuma, the group’s treasurer.

But even with two freezers, Mutuma explains they further acquired a pasteurising machine as milk is highly perishable and can pass pathogens that produce diseases to humans.


In September last year, the group achieved a milestone by buying the pasteuriser and a milk ATM, each with a capacity of 200 litres at Sh600,000 — money from their savings, making it the first vendor in the region to pasteurise their milk.

“Pasteurisation is an effective method of killing bacteria in milk and does not reduce its nutritional value making it safer for human consumption,” says Gertrude, who is the chairperson of the group and keeps four cows.

The milk vending machine has helped them actualise their dream of doing away with the middlemen and selling their milk directly to the consumer.

“We are not only able to offer milk in the friendliest and hygienic way, but also we are in a position to preserve the milk in an optimal way while maintaining the flavour and selling to our customers at Sh60 a litre or in any quantity they want. Customers who buy more than 20 litres enjoy a discount of Sh10.”

To mitigate the challenge of getting semen, the group has acquired an eight-litre straw semen tank worth Sh60,000 where they store the product and farmers easily access it.

They buy the semen from Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (KAGRC) based in Nairobi, with the institution supplying the product in the region.

“Breeding was a big challenge since sometimes the semen was collected from poor quality bulls, freezing was also poor due to lack of facilities coupled by poor skills by some extension officers. Limited access to veterinary services further affected productivity resulting to breeding problems to farmers,” Gertrude explains.

She says the group, which is currently competing with the big boys in the region, is transitioning into a co-operative and they plan to also start manufacturing their own feeds.

Some of the milk processors working in Meru are Giant Meru Union, Brookside and New KCC.

“My being away does not cause any vacuum because the treasurer and the secretary manage the group. We also hold meetings by teleconferencing and we have a WhatsApp group,” she says, noting farmers are paid weekly for deliveries.

Romano Kithiki, a member of the group, says initially he had one animal, earning an average Sh3,000 per month but today his earnings have risen five-fold as he has three cows.

Mary Ng’ang’a, a quality trainer with Policy and Market, explains that if farmers take too long to deliver milk to the collecting centre, bacteria multiplication starts as the natural enzyme that preserves milk — lacto peroxides — is only active in the first two hours.

“If the process of collecting, grading and transportation takes more than two hours, bacteria multiplication starts even before the milk gets to the cooling and processing unit forcing it to precipitate, thus, compromising quality.”


Get it Quick


  1. Dairy production faces a number of challenges that affect quality and quantity of milk.
  2. These include limited availability of quality and affordable feeds, inadequate infrastructure including access roads and milk cooling facilities and limited extension services.
  3. There is also low value addition to absorb surpluses during glut, and limited access to markets and market information.
  4. Through groups, however, some of the problems can be surmounted.

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