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When food products are recalled, quick and efficient tracking and identification of the contaminated goods can mean the difference between a large-scale problem and a controllable, isolated incident. For this reason, product traceability for companies producing perishable dairy goods is a top priority.
Dairy-Mix of St. Petersburg, Fla., is highly aware of the importance of traceability, which is why it is a reliable provider to several major national restaurants. Ever wonder where that delicious ice cream served at Dairy Queen and McDonald’s gets its start? Believe it or not, those frozen treats originate way down south in sunny Florida at the Dairy-Mix plant.
Since 1948, Dairy-Mix, Inc. has been producing high-quality dairy mixes that take life as the basis for shakes, ice cream, yogurts and custards, and has been supplying to McDonald’s and Dairy Queen for more than 50 years.
Despite its long history, though, Dairy-Mix stuck to the old way of doing things by constantly adapting and improving upon its quality and efficiency. That’s why the modern-day Dairy-Mix uses state-of-the-art equipment to produce and track its ice cream treats.
Dairy-Mix’s ice cream products are liquid mix that is packaged in 2½-gallon plastic bags. The mix is pasteurized using the HTST (high-temperature/short-time) process, giving it a refrigerated shelf-life of two to three weeks. Once it is produced and leaves the facility, the clock starts ticking, and end-product users must ensure that they follow the printed expiration dates on the product.
When the product leaves the facility, two of the mix bags are packaged into a single corrugated box. Most of the products are picked up by outside haulers that transport them to a distribution center or directly to customers. Four route trucks deliver directly to customers within a 150-mile radius of the plant.
Before the mix ever reaches customers, it is important that it be kept at a consistent temperature between 34-38°F to ensure the product’s integrity. Because different mixes have different uses and because expiration dates allow them to maintain quality, accurate marking on the poly bags and corrugated boxes is of the utmost importance. In respect to both USDA regulations and customer preferences, Dairy-Mix must provide marking on both the poly/plastic bags and the corrugated shipping cases that carry their product.
The company uses several printers from Markem-Imaje to identify its products on both the poly bag and box the mix is shipped in. This visual cue indicates mix ingredients, type of product and complete recovery information. For instance, Dairy-Mix uses the SmartDate 5 thermal ribbon coder for printing information onto the poly bags. It also uses a Cimjet 200 label maker and applicator machine for nutritional label requirements that are then applied to the exterior boxes. Next, Dairy-Mix uses Markem-Imaje 5400 large character inkjet coders for the four sides of the boxes for product identification, ingredients, time, count and shelf life. Finally on the production line, Markem-Imaje crayon 4020 inkjet coders are used for applying expiration dates on the two ends of the boxes. This is a thorough amount of labeling and coding, but it means the product is easily traced and highly identifiable.
Since the mix is a sensitive fresh dairy product, Dairy-Mix knows that it’s important to have to have a good recall program in place in case of an issue regarding quality and safety for consumers. Using Markem-Imaje printing technology, Dairy-Mix is able to print a multitude of tracking information on the individual bags using SmartDate technology, whereas before they simply had a corrugated production date on their boxes. Combined with other tracking of ingredients, Dairy-Mix can now trace the problem down to the individual bag. That's pretty impressive considering the volume of product run and knowing how far the problem could reach without such input.
“We want to continue to supply our customers with whatever their needs are and also protect our investment and products,” says Jerry Maine, plant manager at Dairy-Mix. “To that end, we expect that eventually our customers will have requests for more information to be applied to all packaging, including logos and bar codes, and so we require the most efficient equipment with capabilities to tackle all the options without using multiple applicators.”
Anticipating their customers’ needs before they happen is just another way that Dairy-Mix has established itself as an industry mainstay. With possible future changes in customer needs and potential changes to federal regulations for dairy product tracing, Dairy-Mix knows that they have the capability and the technology to continue to provide a quality, traceable product.
Markem-Imaje, a wholly owned subsidiary of the New York-based Dover Group, is a world manufacturer of product identification and traceability solutions, offering a full line of reliable and innovative inkjet, thermal transfer, laser, and print-and-apply label systems. With more than 95 years of experience, Markem-Imaje delivers fully integrated solutions that enable product quality and safety, regulatory and retailer compliance, better product recalls and improved manufacturing processes. Headquartered in Bourg-les-Valence, France, Markem-Imaje provides more than 30,000 customers with optimal product marking and coding solutions. Additionally, Markem-Imaje customers are supported by 32 subsidiaries, 5 R&D centers, several equipment repair centers and manufacturing plants strategically located around the globe.