Continuous-flow centrifugal cream separators using cone disks in a bowl were introduced in 1890. Originally, the cream separators were the basic plant equipment, and dairy plants were then known as creameries. Today's separators are pressure- or forced-fed, sealed airtight units. Separators develop 5,000 to 10,000 times the force of gravity to separate the fat (cream) from the milk. Cold incoming raw milk is generally filtered, clarified, or both in the plant to remove sediment. A clarifier is a special type of separator in which sediment is continuously removed from milk before further processing. Bactofugation is a specialized process of clarification in which high-speed centrifugal devices are used to remove most of the bacteria from milk. This process is used for sterile milk or cheese.

In today's large, automated fluid milk plants, milk is standardized automatically. A continuous separator splits the milk stream into fat-free milk and cream, the latter of which is added back to the milk stream to yield the desired fat content. Automatic (on-line) sampling and testing equipment along with air valves control the final tests of the desired product.

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