Ask a tourist about what to see or do in upstate New York, and you might hear about the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown, boating or fishing on the region’s many lakes or visiting the Corning Museum of Glass.

But ask someone in the dairy industry and you’ll get a different answer. Upstate New York is a hotbed of dairy processing, especially yogurt production. In a line stretching east to west (from Johnstown to Batavia) are four major yogurt processing facilities: Fage (in Johnstown), Chobani (South Edmeston), Emmi Roth USA (Penn Yan) and Alpina (Batavia, under construction and slated to open this year). With 21 yogurt processing facilities in New York state (according to the Interstate Milk Shippers list), the Empire State might want to consider a new nickname.

Emmi is the largest dairy processor in Switzerland. Its U.S. operation makes cheese at a plant in Monroe, Wis. (see “Tradition Meets Technology” in the September 2010 Dairy Foods). First and foremost a cheesemaker, Emmi Roth also competes in the yogurt category, and it is building a market for its grab-and-go Caffe Latte product. It manufactures these foods, and others, in a relatively new facility in Penn Yan.

Penn Yan is a small town nestled between Keuka and Seneca lakes in the Finger Lakes region. What’s notable about Emmi Roth’s plant is that, under one roof, it is processing aseptic dairy and nondairy products, including Swiss-style yogurt, milk-based coffee beverages and bag-in-box milk. It is like a Swiss army knife of dairy processing: it has a tool for just about any food.

Vice President of Production and International Projects Rene Weber calls the facility “the only state-of-the-art aseptic facility in the country that uses multiple UHT (ultra-high temperature) systems and runs cultured dairy products under the same roof.”

“Our modern facility was designed and constructed in 2002 by our team of engineers to meet all state and federal regulations for low-acid canning and to maintain security above and beyond the Bioterrorism Act,” says Weber.

The plant, known as CASP (contract aseptic plant) was owned and built by the Von Rhedey family which sought to establish a co-packing business. Since the plant opened in 2003, increasing demand for fresh dairy and aseptic shelf-stable products has resulted in expansion and equipment upgrades and additions. A 25,000-square-foot dry goods warehouse and a 5,000-square-foot cooler were added in 2005. The plant is located in an industrial park, which offers room for additional expansion, if that becomes necessary.

When Emmi was looking for a production partner in the United States, it liked the facility because of its flexibility. It contracted with CASP to co-pack its Caffe Latte, a line of fresh dairy coffee beverages. (Another New York dairy processor was co-packing Emmi’s yogurts at the time; today both the yogurts and the Caffe Lattes are processed at CASP.)

 Over the years, Emmi had installed so much proprietary equipment in the plant that in 2010 it made sense to buy CASP. The timing was perfect; the owners were eager to sell. Now, Emmi Roth processes its own branded beverages and yogurts, and co-packs bag-in-box milk for foodservice accounts. Emmi also has the capabilities to co-pack other fluid dairy products and dairy foods (for example, cheese sauces) for other accounts. And the staff can help with product development and process design.

“We offer state-of-the-art UHT processing for maximum food safety, provide high- and low-acid aseptic dairy and nondairy products for foodservice bag-in-box and retail stand-up re-closable pouches,” Weber says.

He adds that CASP offers a variety of different heating methods and great flexibility with upstream and downstream homogenization. That includes “high-speed clean fill equipment that provides extended shelf life of our retail cultured and coffee branded products,” Weber says.

For fresh dairy beverages and yogurts, the plant purchases locally sourced milk that is rBST-free and Kosher certified. Emmi’s purchasing department sources coffee beans, roasts and blends them at a nearby off-site facility and then brews the coffee on-site for the Caffe Latte beverages.

The production facility is neat and well-organized. Tanks and vats are located on one side of the manufacturing floor; filling lines on the other. Overhead piping transfers milk from the vats to the fillers. The floor is noticeably clean and dry.

Recipes are loaded into a computerized database and are accessed by a technician. Fruits for yogurts are poured by hand into hoppers located in a HEPA-treated room adjacent to the yogurt filler. Lighter-colored yogurts (like vanilla bean or green apple) are processed first with the darkest ones (pomegranate and black cherry) last.

Weber and his team at CASP are in the process of adding a high-speed aseptic filling line. This line will be able to produce high- and low-acid aseptic products using form-fill-seal technology. This is said to be the first of its kind in the United States.


Worker safety, food safety

Ergonomics and employee safety are top priorities at modern food processing companies. At Emmi Roth, employee training sessions cover topics such as proper lifting techniques, lock out and tag out, chemical safety and equipment use. At mandatory monthly safety committee meetings, managers identify potential safety issues and create an action plan to correct or prevent potential violations.

As for auditing and supplier certification programs, the facility constantly undergoes customer and third-party audits in order to meet their food safety standards and requirements. The plant operates under strict Food and Drug Administration guidelines, as well as U.S. public health and state regulations. CASP is in the process of obtaining FSSC 22K certification under the Global Food Safety Initiative.

Emmi Roth USA has stringent procedures on record keeping and traceability of all ingredients and supplies throughout the production and packaging process, Weber says. The New York state-certified in-house lab performs chemical and microbial testing  (including various Randolph tests), as well as organoleptic analysis. Testing of raw and finished product looks at coliform, standard plate count, yeast and mold.

“Product is pulled from the line every hour for testing, including stress tests. Samples are continuously monitored off the line during production to insure the highest quality product in every cup or bag we produce,” Weber says. The entire management team is involved in the sampling review.

Weber says that some of the specific challenges they encounter are the need to lengthen the shelf life of its natural, value-added foods and beverages without the use of preservatives or artificial fillers. Shelf life ranges from 60 to 75 days on yogurt, 90 days on ESL and from 180 days to two years for aseptic products.

“With over 75 years of combined experience in the food industry domestically and internationally, Emmi Roth USA provides the knowledge and expertise to securely and efficiently meet the growing demand of this and other challenges for cultured and aseptically packaged products in the United States,” Weber says.

The U.S. arm of this dairy foods maker from Switzerland has made itself at home in the rolling hills of upstate New York. Emmi Roth has a long way to go before its Caffe Latte will be as well known as other coffee-and-milk beverages or its yogurts as famous as national brands. But Emmi Roth has made a name for itself as a processor of premium dairy foods in a state-of-the-art facility.   


At A Glance


Plant location: (Interstate Milk Shipper Plant 8579),
Penn Yan, N.Y.

Size of the plant: 50,000 square feet

Year plant built: Built in 2002 and opened December 2003.

Products made: Swiss-style yogurt, nondairy yogurt, extended shelf life and aseptic high- and low-acid bag-in-box dairy and nondairy creamers, ice cream mixes, concentrated milk beverages, juices, fruit smoothies, coffee concentrates and Caffe Latte.

Total annual processing capacity: 10 million gallons

IMS Enforcement Rating (Oct. 1, 2011): 94 by the New York Department of Agriculture

Number of production employees: 55

Number of shifts: Two

Storage silos and tanks: Two storage silos (one 12,000 gallon and one 50,000 gallon). Two 5,000-gallon batch blend tanks and two 6,000-gallon batch blend tanks

Pasteurization units: Two UHT Processors (1,800 gallons per hour and 2,500 gph) and two HTST Systems (2,000 gph)

Filling lines: Five lines, consisting of two bag-in-box (BIB) fillers at 1,600 gallons per hour; one BIB filler at 300 gph; one yogurt filler (9,600 cups per hour); one 10-lane cup filler (10,000 cups per hour)

Storage: 25,000-square-foot warehouse with 750 pallet positions and three loading docks; 5,000-square-foot cooler with 316 pallet positions; 20,000 square feet inside the plant.

    Storage capacities: Raw milk (94,000 gallons); pasteurized milk (10,000 gallons)