The Yellow Pages

by James Dudlicek
Scrupulous testing and distinctive processing at Mayfield’s hometown plant contribute to the brand’s success.
“Food safety begins on the farm,” says Barry Derrick, quality assurance manager at Mayfield Dairy Farms’ processing facility in Athens, Tenn.
Thus begins the story of how Mayfield manages to produce the purest, freshest-tasting product possible, time after time, batch after batch.
To be sure, no milk even gets past the front gate unless it passes rigorous quality testing.
“Only milk from Grade A farms is acceptable,” Derrick says. “These farms are regularly inspected by the Department of Agriculture and our own field personnel.”
Raw milk is procured for Mayfield and other Dean Foods divisions in the Southeast by Dairy Marketing Services (DMS). The milk comes from about 150 independent producers, primarily from within Tennessee, according to Jack Grubb, DMS field representative and a 56-year Mayfield veteran. But if production demands require it, milk can be brought in from as far away as Wisconsin and Texas, Grubb says.
The plant receives about 25 tankers of raw milk per day, each carrying about 55,000 pounds of milk. They arrive at the scale house where they’re weighed and samples are taken for testing. “Milk from several farms may be commingled on one tanker,” Derrick says. “For security reasons, all ports on the tankers must be sealed and seal numbers must be documented.  When a tanker arrives, the top seal is broken, the temperature of the milk is taken and a sample is collected.”
Testing for antibiotics and bacteria, among other things, takes about 10 minutes. If the load tests clean, the truck proceeds to the plant for offloading. If it fails, the load is turned away. Data is kept on each batch of milk from each farm contributing to the total load, so Mayfield can “weed out which producer is the culprit” in the event of a bad batch, Grubb explains. Each batch is weighed at the farm, and the total weight upon arrival at the plant must match the batch total.
“Every load of milk gets this same treatment,” Grubb says, explaining that DMS works closely with producers to rectify problems. “The farmer works for us, so we work together to solve problems. That gives us top-quality raw milk.”
All testing data is logged by the plant and kept on file in case of future problems or inquiries by regulatory authorities.
Fillin’ Yellow Jugs
Once milk is deemed fit for Mayfield’s use, the journey to the consumer begins.
Mayfield’s trademark yellow milk jugs are manufactured on site by the dairy’s own blow-molding operation. The plant can turn out 7,800 gallon jugs and 6,400 half-gallon jugs every hour on six machines, four for gallons and two for half gallons.
The light-blocking containers are made from a combination of new plastic, yellow color pellets and regrind, or scrap from the molding process. Finished jugs are sent by overhead conveyor to the filling lines.
While the distinctive yellow jugs are made at the plant, all other milk containers — including the famous Chug that Mayfield launched for Dean — are brought in from off site. But the Athens plant is responsible for applying the shrink-sleeve labels to the plastic milk bottles, not only for Mayfield-branded products but for Barber’s and Dean branded milks as well.
A descrambling machine uprights and sorts bottles loaded into the shrink-sleeving machine. Bottles traveling to the two shrink-sleeving lines receive labels dropped from above at a rate of 350 bottles a minute, then head through the shrink tunnel to finish the label application process.
Labeled bottles join their yellow cousins on a conveyor journey across a bridge over a street bisecting the plant on their way to the filling area. The entire plant used to be across the street; the blow-molding operation is housed in a former textile mill that was added to the Mayfield plant complex, according to Chad McKeehan, assistant manager of the visitor center at the Athens plant.
Bottles are fed into their appropriate lines: two gallon fillers, one half-gallon filler, a quart filler, a pint filler and three half-pint fillers. All are rotary fillers except for the half-pint gabletop carton line.
Yellow jugs descend from the bridge and receive inkjet code dating and a paper label before being filled. The bottles are filled, spun around for application of a one-piece tamper-evident cap and sent onward down the line for crating.
Fillers do their jobs at a rate of 100 gallons per minute, McKeehan says. The plant processes and bottles about 180,000 gallons per day on all its fluid lines, based on annual averages, he says.
Quality-control staffers take samples of product off each line every 30 minutes for testing and to store for research purposes, Derrick says. One sample of each run is stored in a heat-shock cooler, where they’re held at 45 degrees F and tested again after seven days, to cover most expected home and retail refrigeration scenarios, he explains. Samples are actually pulled for testing at each stage of production, from pasteurized tanks, holding tanks and fillers, according to production supervisor Alan Hennessee.
Before filling, of course, Mayfield-branded milk undergoes the company’s unique vacreating treatment to remove off flavors and odors. The plant’s HTST pasteurizers are equipped with an upstream vacuum chamber that injects dry steam into the milk, raising its temperature from 160 to 175 degrees F. The milk next enters a flashing chamber to reduce the temperature back to 160 and remove moisture equivalent to the steam condensate added upstream. Conven­tional pasteurization is then resumed on the vacuum-treated raw milk.
Select Process
Mayfield’s ice cream operation gets its milk and cream directly from the adjacent milk processing plant, ensuring the freshest ingredients for the company’s popular frozen offerings. Ice cream products made here include Mayfield Classics square and Select scround half-gallons, quart sherbet, pint ice cream, sundae cones, sandwiches, stick novelties and bulk products. The plant’s output includes frozen items made under other Dean brand names as well.
All ice cream products start in the computer-controlled mix room. Milk transferred from the adjacent milk plant is blended with sugar and flavorings, pasteurized and held for 24 hours before being made into finished product.
Stick novelties come off three lines — one 12 wide for ice pops, another for bars and a 24-bar line for bullet bars.  
For Mayfield Cream Bars, a novelty made of vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet, half-frozen ice cream is filled into the –40 degree F slots of the bar former. Sticks are inserted, and the bars are frozen hard by the time they get to the wrapping stage. Frozen bars are picked up by their sticks in groups of eight  and dropped into long continuous sheets of wrapper material. The wrapping is cut apart into individually sealed bars, flipped over and hand sorted into boxes for store sales or bulk boxes for individual sales in convenience stores and schools.
Water ice bars are created in a similar fashion. A three-section flavor vat holds cherry, grape and orange mix that’s fed through overhead hoses to the 12-across molds to make boxes full of the pops in assorted flavors.
On the cone line, sleeved cones are fed manually from above into the filler. Cones advance three at a time to be filled with ice cream and lidded, then packed in boxes that are machine formed at the end of the line.
Meanwhile on the packaged lines, flats for square cartons are mechanically opened to receive ice cream fed to the line through overhead pipes. Cartons are filled from the end, sealed, weighed and metal-detected before advancing to the hardener. Scrounds for the Select line follow similar steps; a clear film is applied before the tubs are lidded and sent on for hardening.
During peak season, the plant produces about 42,000 square half-gallons per day and about 50,000 scrounds daily, along with 60,000 dozen frozen novelties. The facility also produces 3-gallon bulk tubs for ice cream sold in the plant’s visitor center.
Packaged ice cream spends about 90 minutes in the hardener at –35 degrees F. The hardener contains 16 plates that each can hold 320 half-gallon cartons. When the hardening process is complete, cartons drop from the hardener onto a conveyor, which whisks them off for bundling, storage and shipment.
Cartons pass through a metal detector before they’re bundled in clear film, five squares per bundle of Classics and four scrounds on a cardboard flat per bundle of Select flavors. Pints are likewise film-wrapped, eight pints per flat.
Bundles of packaged ice cream are stacked on pallets at 0 degrees F, then sent to storage at –20 degrees F.
Constant Change
The original facility in Athens was built around 1950 and has been being added onto in some fashion ever since.  In fact, the company reports that most employees that have been with Mayfield for the past 40 years will tell you they can’t remember a time there wasn’t a project being planned or implemented to expand some area of the plant.
“We’ve been in a state of growth for years,” says plant manager Scott Watson. “We’ve done projects recently to upgrade new valve clusters and new tanks. We continue to grow and add new technology. Between Athens and Birmingham, we’ve moved volume around. We’ve incorporated the Birmingham facility into the ice cream operation and made decisions on where volume needed to be run. We’re in a constant state of change.”
New equipment includes a three-level, state-of-the-art engine room with automated controls, upgraded cooler and case dock with new above-ground drives, upgrading of the automated storage and retrieval system, a new cone machine and recycling equipment. In the realm of packaging, Mayfield changed its frozen novelty packaging to a thicker board to better protect and insulate product as its shipped to warehouses.
“As in any growing business, we re-invest in our plants constantly,” Watson says. “We make sure to educate ourselves on improving technologies and efficiencies in all our plants.”
Likewise, Mayfield always has its eyes open for ways to make plant processes just a little bit better, more efficient. “Most of the equipment and systems in the plant are controlled by processors which give us the ability to make most changes quite easily,” Watson says. “We’ve been able to add controls — or just information — to HMI screens to allow machine operators to do their jobs more efficiently. We have done in-house upgrades on some equipment to replace old relays with a programmable controller. We have designed and fabricated small pieces of equipment to do certain repetitive tasks.”
As far as improvements yet to come, the company reports it’s constantly striving to improve its production opportunities. “We employ a very talented group of people,” Watson says. “If we can think of it, we can normally figure out a way to get it done.”
That includes logistics and distribution as well. “We’ve got a full-time guy who runs logistics software for routing,” explains company president Scottie Mayfield. “He looks at our route structure on an ongoing basis to make sure we’re minimizing our miles. We’ve got to get there on the frequency we need to be there to have the good service we want. But as we grow and as a store opens over here and the dynamics of the marketplace change, we need to continually look at our route-sales structure. He can do a much better job of getting an 85 or 90 percent accurate solution to a supervisor group than those supervisors could get on their own.”
Much like the rest of the dairy industry at the present time, Mayfield is not quite ready to embrace radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. But as work to improve this logistics innovation continues, its adoption remains in the cards.
“It’s not quite ready yet. It’s still cost-prohibitive,” says general manager Mary Williams, noting the company is studying its use. “But I do think over time, like anything in technology, that’s something that will be implemented.”
It’s something that retail grocery giant Wal-Mart is expected to demand of its suppliers, but the folks at Mayfield are confident that it won’t be a must until the cost factor is overcome. “We have a good relationship with Wal-Mart where they trust our input and opinion. Plus, they’re very knowledgeable,” Mayfield says. “If it’s not going to reduce costs, they’re not going to want to do it. If it does get to where it can help us reduce costs, they will want to do it, and we will probably want to do it, too.”
Quality and Safety
Mayfield employs a range of in-house and external programs to ensure the quality of its processes, ingredients and finished products. Cycle counts on daily and weekly schedules are used for specific ingredients and packaging, says purchasing manager Alan Dyke.
Incoming shipments of ingredients, packaging and purchased product are checked for bill-of-lading accuracy, proper temperature range and overall condition, he explains.
Mayfield suppliers must qualify their products for quality and integrity before they are considered for use in Mayfield products. “The qualifying process begins with the sampling process and is evaluated by our team of professionals,” Dyke says. “Qualified Mayfield suppliers are evaluated on a regular basis on product performance, supply chain performance, supplier history and occasional visits to their production facilities. These evaluations are kept on file and the results are communicated to the supplier.”      
In-house inspections are conducted monthly by a team consisting of members from each department to ensure food safety, Derrick says. In addition, third-party audits are conducted twice annually.
Each year, Mayfield plant employees attend a refresher class on HACCP, OSHA programs and good manufacturing practices. Furthermore, the company sends its employees to training schools each year. Most of Mayfield’s milk plant employees have attended some sort of dairy microbiology class.  
Beyond safety of the finished product, safety of the folks who make it is a high priority as well.
“Throughout the plant, we utilize input from our employees, whether it is an idea for improvement or a potential safety hazard,” says Anita Boring, Mayfield’s environmental, health and safety coordinator. “All input is appreciated and considered. We have an active safety committee that includes representatives from all departments and backgrounds. This committee strives to recognize potential safety hazards before an accident occurs. The committee is also utilized to investigate accidents to insure proper measures are taken to prevent similar accidents.”
Additionally, the company strives to make workplace improvements from an ergonomic standpoint. “We have attempted to make manual handling and other job duties that require repetition as safe and easy as possible for our employees,” Boring says. “When possible, we have switched ingredients from boxes or buckets to totes, to prevent employees from having to handle heavy items. This is an ongoing process where we continuously look for places to improve. We also analyze our employee’s accidents watching for any potential trends that may indicate a problem area.”
Mayfield’s Athens plant has its work cut out for it, as one of three plants that must send a continuous flow of product to some three dozen distribution facilities and transfer points throughout the Southeast.
Together with its sister plants, Athens holds its own, and shows every sign it will continue to do so while undergoing a constant process of upgrade and enhancement.
As long as Mayfield continues to grow in stature as a brand in the company’s marketing area, the company has no choice but to make sure its production facilities remain the best.  df
Mayfield Plant at a Glance
Location: Athens, Tenn.
Built: 1950, with numerous additions and upgrades since then.
Products: Fluid milk, ice cream, frozen novelties.
Employees: 312 on up to three shifts.
Annual output: Approximately 47 million gallons of milk and 15 million gallons of ice cream.
HTST: One @ 9,000 gallons/hour, one @ 7,500 gallons/hour, one @ 5,000 gallons/hour.
Fluid capacity: 250,000 gallons/day raw milk, 14,800 gallons/day buttermilk, 20,000 gallons/day juices and drinks.
Ice cream blending capacity: 25 tanks totaling 154,000 gallons.
Plant Propagation
Since joining the Dean Foods family, Mayfield has expanded its production facilities to serve a wider area with its popular milk and ice cream products.
Joining the milk and ice cream plant at the company’s Athens, Tenn., home base are the former Barber Dairies ice cream plant in Birmingham, Ala., and a new fluid milk processing facility in Braselton, Ga., northeast of Atlanta.
Opened in fall 1997, the $18.4 million fluid plant in Braselton packages 19 million gallons of milk a year. The Braselton plant was constructed using innovative designs in both the facility building and process controls, says Mark Howard, plant manager. The building design incorporates insulated non-bearing wall panels on the interior and exterior to meet the need for efficient room expansions, Howard explains.
Processing equipment includes mag-flow meters for accurate product control and data collection, optical sensors, microwave tank-level sensors and a data highway network linking main AB controllers with numerous stand-alone equipment systems.
Like the flagship plant in Athens, the Braselton facility features a visitor center to offer the public a closer look at Mayfield’s milk processing operations.
In December 1999, Barber Dairies became part of Dean Foods’ Southeast Region, and within three months the distribution of Mayfield Select ice cream was expanded farther into Alabama through Barber’s distribution system.
By March 2002, the former Barber Ice Cream, now known as Mayfield Ice Cream in Birmingham, was producing a selection of Mayfield Select half-gallon flavors and some pint flavors and novelties.
The Birmingham plant packages about 13 million gallons of ice cream annually. Built in the 1970s, the facility has undergone several major expansions over the years in production, freezer capacity and engineering support areas.
“We started production of Mayfield in Birmingham in February 2001, and we started introducing heavily into Alabama in 2002,” says Eddie Allen, Birmingham plant manager. “At that point in time with the pre-Suiza Dean Foods, Mayfield was the premiere ice cream in the Southeast, and the Barber label was really struggling to survive in Alabama. As a business decision, the introduction of the Mayfield label in Alabama was very successful. We thought we could combat our major competitors better with Mayfield that we could with Barber’s.”
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