Ultra High Quality

by James Dudlicek
Purity and safety are hallmarks of Hood's Oneida, N.Y., UHT milk processing plant
HP Hood describes itself as being two companies in one — a popular regional brand with deep historical ties in New England, and a national player that brings innovative products to consumers across the country under various names through licensing agreements.
Similarly, the company's ultra-high-temperature (UHT) processing facility in Oneida, N.Y., is two plants in one. The "front plant" produces milk in half-gallon containers, while the "back plant" runs quarts, pints, half pints and single-serve creamers, explains Jack Morgan, operations manager and production coordinator for the Oneida plant.
But regardless of which part of this 200,000-square-foot facility employees happen to be working in, the firm commitment to quality and safety remains the same. In fact, the Oneida plant won Hood's 2003 President's Safety Award for UHT and culture plants.
And safety has become more important, not only because of the new bioterrorism regulations in place this year, but because of the increasingly rapid pace at which the Oneida plant has been operating. That pace is necessary to meet the unplanned demand for Hood's new low-carbohydrate dairy beverage, Carb Countdown™. Oneida manufactures this Atkins-endorsed product, along with various sizes of gable-top cartons filled with Hood's flagship brand of milk and cream, single-serve creamers for foodservice, and milk and soymilk co-packed for other brands.
A Million Pounds a Day
Tanker trucks weigh in before entering the plant's single two-truck bay. Arriving here daily are 35 to 50 trucks of milk, plus three to five truckloads of cream. Most of the milk processed here comes from farms within a 50-mile radius, while cream is received from all over the country, says Morgan. Organic milk comes in from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and occasionally Idaho, he says.
In all, the Oneida plant receives
1 million pounds of milk every day, seven days a week, along with sweeteners and other ingredients used to make the various lines.
Before offloading, samples are taken from all loads of milk and cream for a standard battery of tests including antibiotics, somatic cell count, temperature, color and aroma, explains Morgan. All arriving milk is transferred into four silos; three that hold 50,000 gallons and one that holds 25,000 gallons.
"We're moving a million pounds through the plant per day, every day," says Morgan. "It's processed within 24 hours."
The milk moves on for processing, first separation and then UHT pasteurization. The plant's two VTIS units handle 3,000 and 5,000 gallons per hour, along with a separator that has a capacity of 100,000 pounds per hour. Milk is treated at 280 degrees for two seconds. A lactose conversion tank is employed for the production of Lactaid-brand
lactose-free milk.
A computer directs the flow of raw product; a monitor displays a schematic of the plant showing the route raw milk takes on its way to becoming one of the many lines manufactured here. All told, the plant processes 14,500 gallons per hour and averages 185,000 gallons per day, says Morgan.
How does the process for making Carb Countdown differ from the method of processing regular milk? According to Mike Suever, vice president of milk procurement and processing, Hood uses proprietary processing and ingredient technologies to reduce carbohydrates, then adds Splenda® brand sucralose.
The Oneida plant fills about 700,000 units a day of various SKUs.
All the containers filled at Oneida are gable-top paperboard cartons, many with screw caps for greater ease in pouring and recloseability. No plastic bottles are filled here; in fact, Suever says there's been a recent upswing in consumer demand for paper cartons, despite the company's expectation of a greater shift toward plastic.
"In the last 12 months, we've actually seen paper take off again," says Suever. He says new innovations in packaging and filling equipment are the reason, along with the fact that paperboard packaging offers a "billboard" effect for advertising and graphics. Plus, he says there's no cost-effective half-gallon UHT filler available for plastic containers.
This plant fills all sizes of containers from half gallon on down with milk, various cream products and Hood's premium milk line sold in New England, including a vanilla and two chocolate varieties. Oneida also packages Lactaid in half pints for nursing homes and schools, as well as single-serve creamers for foodservice, under the Hood brand and private labels for restaurants. The plant's three creamer filling machines each put out 2,000 creamers every minute, yielding a creamer output of 16 million creamers per week, says Morgan.
The plant — built in the early 1960s to make powder and butter, and since converted to all UHT processing — runs on a six-day-a-week schedule, or seven days as needed. Its 190 employees work on three shifts around the clock.
Keeping Track Of It All
Cartons of product are packed into cardboard boxes for shipping. Bar codes are applied to every box to track them for recall purposes, says Morgan. Scanning the bar code on a case of product can instantly reveal the variety, manufacturing date, expiration date and other details of the contents.
"We use bar codes to track our products all the way through to our customers," says Morgan.
Plant manager Jim Sylvester adds, "It accounts for everything, even the raw ingredients, all the way through."
Product is sent to eight palletizers; bar codes are scanned to tell the computer what's on every pallet in the cold-storage warehouse. The plant's two coolers, kept at a constant temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F, has a total capacity of 8,500 pallets.
Manned cranes, linked to the computer, scan pallet tags to find out where to put palletized product within the first-in/first-out organization system that's eight racks high with some 6,000 spaces, says Morgan. Five cranes service eight lanes; a guide wire embedded in the concrete floor helps to steer the vehicles.
Morgan explains that when cranes bring pallets in, if one in the same aisle needs to go out, the computer will alert the crane operator to take it. This way, the system is never running empty, he says.
Some products are stored in the main cooler, while others are routed to the truck bay for shipping. Arriving and departing from nine bays, 40 to 60 trucks are shipped out per day, taking finished products to grocery distributors and warehouses.
Cottage cheese and some other products come from Hood's cultured plant in nearby Vernon, N.Y., for shipment through Oneida's warehouse. There's also some movement of product made at the company's Winchester, Va., plant (see sidebar) through Oneida, says Morgan, who also oversees production planning of the gable-top lines at Winchester. "We also distribute a lot of what's made in Oneida through Winchester," he says.
Staying Up to Date
With the addition of new product lines, and the effort to get them to a hungry marketplace as quickly as possible, comes new technology of various sorts — from processing to packaging.
"There's a lot of computer technology involved with running soy milk to keep it separate from dairy, to keep the product safe," says Morgan.
One line is an allergen to the other, notes Sylvester. "We're set up so our computers know when we've cleaned one line before it lets us run the other," he explains.
New additions include innovative fitments like screw caps for gable-top cartons and the equipment to apply the caps on containers ranging in size from pints to half gallons.
"We continue to lengthen the pull dates. We're running products anywhere from 60 days to 90 days right now," says Morgan. "Part of the reason is carton manufacturers are coming out with higher-tech gable-top cartons and barrier boards. They hold up for a longer length of time in the dairy case; they used to start bulging after 30 or 40 days. They don't do that anymore. We ship a lot of product across the country, and the older cartons couldn't handle that. They'd get saturated and break down."
Future plans are centered around increasing capacity to make more new products like Carb Countdown. "We're going to put in a new batch system this year," says Sylvester. "Our new system will be the next generation."
Morgan adds, "We're adding batching capacity so we can make more products like Carb Countdown, and additional flavored products."
As for Carb Countdown's success, he says, "We didn't plan for it and right now we can't make enough of it." Sylvester concurs: "We thought Lactaid was a very fast-growing market. It's nowhere near what this has been, but of course, that's off a zero base."
The high demand presents its own challenges to the people who have to make the product — make it well and get it to consumers in a timely fashion without cutting corners.
"The problem we had was integrating it into our weekly routine and still keeping the plant efficient," says Morgan. "We had some batching challenges. We had some ingredient-buying challenges. Some of the ingredients that we purchased were not acceptable in all of our products. The dry ingredients and some of the liquid ingredients that go into the UF (ultrafiltered) skim are still a challenge, because product sales of Carb Countdown are still growing.
"It came out at the beginning of the eggnog season last year, which was the worst possible time for the plant's scheduling program. We put all our plants on seven-day-a-week schedules because we were already at capacity with other products. We are planning to add capacity and utilize co-packing arrangements to allow us to revert to a more normal schedule. The forecasts were going up faster than we could get cartons made. The challenge for a plant is integrating different types of products into weekly routines so you're keeping your allergens separate. That's the biggest challenge we're seeing here."
Quality Concerns
To ensure that Oneida is putting out product with the same high quality that Hood is famous for, the plant is under the watch of a three-pronged auditing program. There are corporate audits, in-house audits and outside audits by at least two independent auditing firms.
"We're auditing our quality and good manufacturing practices on a weekly basis — weekly, monthly, yearly," says Morgan. The outside audits are performed every six months.
The plant also uses a supplier certification program. "Just about everything we buy comes through a corporate contract that has to pass a corporate review before we can bring it in here," says Morgan. "We inspect all our materials as they arrive."
And, as mentioned already, safety is always a top priority. "We have a safety coordinator — that's his only job," says Morgan. "We have safety teams, and we have safety incentive plans for all employees."
Furthermore, says Sylvester, a new self-examination program has employees reviewing each other to heighten awareness of plant safety. "We self-audit ourselves in-plant, employee to employee," he says. "It kind of sounds like it would be a negative, but it's really a positive."
There are also numerous training programs, including lockout/tagout, hazmat and ammonia training. The corporate safety director provides training programs to each plant, doing much of the training himself," says Sylvester. "Our employees know that even when we have new hires, the first thing we tell them is we're serious about safety," he says.
Morgan notes the plant posted zero accidents in January, "which means everyone in the plant gets a cash bonus."
In addition to a HACCP plan for food safety, the company has launched a new food security steering committee at the corporate level (see sidebar). Plant-level committees report to the corporate panel in Chelsea, Mass.
According to Lynne Bohan, director of public relations and government affairs, the new committee is a direct tie-in to the new federal bioterrorism regulations. "There are certain policies and procedures that are being evaluated," says Bohan.
In fact, for the past several years, the company has beefed up its training of plant employees on safety procedures, right down to the guidelines for incoming truckloads of milk. "We have a truck-seal program that we adhere to strictly," says Morgan. "We receive no trucks that are not sealed tightly, especially tankers."
Sylvester adds: "The seal might be on there, but if it's not on there properly, that's not good enough."
Hood relies on a topnotch work force to ensure the quality and safety of its products, and it has not been disappointed.
"Much of Oneida's success is due to the people," says Morgan. "The people go the extra mile, working six days a week, seven days a week; they're very experienced. 'People make the difference' is what it says in front of the building in big white letters. It's true."
Winchester '04

Latest improvements at its Virginia plant make Hood
an even stronger UHT player.
The commitment of Chelsea, Mass.-based HP Hood to innovation in ultra-high-temperature
processing is growing this year with the third significant expansion of its UHT milk plant in Winchester, Va.
"We will take its capacity up to 100 million gallons annually — all ultra-high-temperature products," Hood chairman John Kaneb says of the plant that opened in 2000. "We will be installing a fourth plastic filler in the second half of this year. It is an extremely sophisticated, very high-speed piece of equipment which will have both UHT and
aseptic capabilities."
The $42.8 million project will increase the plant's capacity for existing products and enable the production of new technologically advanced products. The expansion is expected to create 65 new jobs in a variety of skilled labor positions.
Hood's Winchester plant manufactures extended-shelf-life beverages for Hood's own brand as well as national brand partners. Among the products made at the plant are Lactaid® lactose-free milk, Nesquik® and Carnation Coffee-Mate®.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner approved a $500,000 performance-based grant for the project from the Virginia Investment Partnership (VIP) program, which offers financial assistance to Virginia companies proposing significant expansion projects. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Frederick County and the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission assisted with the project. Additionally, the Virginia Department of Business Assistance will provide work force training services.
"HP Hood is a valuable part of Virginia's food-processing industry, which employs more than 37,000 workers across the commonwealth," says Warner.
Kaneb expressed his thanks to the governor and the various state and local agencies that assisted with the project. "This investment will allow us to expand our production and packaging capabilities and enable us to meet the needs of our customers," he says. df

Ensuring Security

Hood implements a new program to protect its tradition of quality.
hp hood food security mission statement
HP Hood Inc. is committed to food security and the well-being of its customers, consumers, employees and the communities in which it serves.
Hood strives to ensure proper food security measures and will acomplish this objective by:
nAppointing a dedicated team to address food security initiatives at all Hood processing, storage and distribution facilities.
nDeveloping and implementing policies, guidelines and procedures at all locations to ensure proper security measures are in place.
Conducting training and evalu­ations of established programs on a regular basis.
nWorking closely with state, federal and local agencies on such initiatives to remain current on the latest event/news and required
HP Hood has long maintained a reputation for quality and manufacturing excellence. To protect and further this reputation, the company implemented a new food security program.
This program is aimed at ensuring compliance with national bioterrorism regulations and industry recommendations. The program will be managed by Hood treasurer and director of finance Theresa Bresten, who also acts as the company's chief food security officer.
Responding to world events following September 11, 2001, Congress adopted the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2002. This regulation directly impacts dairy processors and other food manufacturers by establishing regulatory requirements enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have intensified their work to ensure the safety of the country's food supply. Guidelines have been issued to all food processors, and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has issued specific guidance for the dairy industry.
Key industry customers are looking for compliance with specific security standards. Committed to achieving this goal, Hood chairman John Kaneb has endorsed a mission statement for the program.
Hood's Food Security Steering Team is in the process of creating procedures and policies to better define security management responsibilities, improve plant security, enhance employee safety and better ensure product integrity at all manufacturing, storage and distribution locations.
A key component of the plan is establishing a Food Security Committee at each plant to implement the program, tailoring it for the special needs of each production location.
Communication and employee education are key to success. "Employees are our first line of defense against potential security breaches," says Bresten. "It is important for every employee to understand the need for security and how it affects daily responsibilities. We can spend money on security infrastructure, but without employee cooperation, we cannot make those systems work to prevent and detect security breaches."
Bresten has traveled to each of Hood's plants to outline the new program to plant managers and develop a communication plan and training program for all employees.
If the safety history of Hood employees is any indication of a conscientious work force, implementing the new program should not be a difficult task.
In 2001, Hood established its President's Safety Awards as part of a company-wide initiative to recognize the best safety record for three company business units. Awards for the best safety record in a calendar year are given to fluid milk and ice cream plants, UHT and cultured plants, and distribution/logistics facilities.
Award criteria focus primarily on the OSHA recordable incident rate, measured using a simplified safety "score card."
Winning locations receive a flag to commemorate their achievement. A safety celebration event is held at winning locations, with employees receiving T-shirts to commemorate their accomplishments.
The UHT plant in Oneida, N.Y., won in its category for 2003. Other winners for this past year are Hood's fluid milk plant in Portland, Maine, and its Vermont logistics facility.
"I am particularly impressed with the fact that, over the last two years, nearly every location in Hood has won a best-in-class award via our won President's Safety Award, or a significant improvement award from the National Safety Council," says Bruce Bacon, vice president of human resources. "It's clear that our employees are very serious about achieving excellent safety performance, which to me is a sign of a superior work force."
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