Dairy Foods editors toured all 13 dairy processing plants that have been nominated for the 2013 Plant of the Year. After reading these best practices from each of the nominees, vote for your favorite.

1. Use the right equipment. Gifford's Ice Cream uses vintage dual-barrel continuous freezers which create a smooth-textured ice cream. The employees also installed a tri-tray hardening system to preserve the quality of the product.

2. Develop an in-house production expert. Weigel's chocolate milk, processed by Broadacre Dairy, won a blue ribbon from the Tennessee Dairy Products Association. Broadacre had quality and consistency issues until it assigned one man to oversee the production of the beverage.

3. Peer pressure creates a safe environment. Dannon created a culture of safety at its yogurt facility in Ohio. This peer-to-peer, behavior-based safety program has all employees looking out for one another's safety, says the plant manager.

4. Lean manufacturing practices create foods efficiently. Blue bulletin boards at each work station in Safeway's ice cream plant in Bellevue, Wash., show employees the exact processes to follow. Standard operating procedures hang from clipboards; photographs show what a clean station should look like. Each production shift starts with a review of what happened on the previous shift.

5. "Deep dive" CIP audits ensure a clean plant. Managers at the Swiss Valley Farms cheese and whey facility in Luana, Iowa, perform what they call "deep dive" CIP audits to verify and inspect cleanliness of equipment. A daily walk-through audit also keeps all employees focused on food safety.

Vote for the Plant of the Year

6. Buy out your co-packing partner. Emmi had installed so much proprietary equipment in the facility that co-packed its bag-in-box milk and Swiss-style yogurts that the dairy processor ended up buying the plant. Its state-of-the-at UHT systems process high- and low-acid dairy and nondairy products.

 7. Obtain FSSC 22000 certification. The Bel Brands plant in Little Chute, Wis., earned the Foundation for Food Safety Certification 22000 designation. FSSC 22000 encompasses food safety, employee safety and the entire manufacturing process. One result: the cheesemaker reduced accidents by 50%.

8. Reduce the use of natural resources. Oakhurst Dairy is a leader in sustainability. It has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, transportation fuel use and solid waste. By automating drink and juice batching, as well as production line start-up and show-down procedures, the milk processor saves over 2.1 million gallons of water annually.

9. Give and take with state regulators. The owners of G.S. Gelato wanted to use Italian-made freezers in their Florida gelato facility. The state's Department of Agriculture said "not so fast." G.S. Gelato learned what needed to be done and had the machines redesigned. Though it delayed their start up by 14 months, the company was pleased that the state agency guided them through the approval process.

Vote for the Plant of the Year

10. Invest for the long-term. HP Hood is adding filling capacity at its extended shelf life plants, including the one in Sacramento, Calif. The West Coast operation, which processes UHT and ESL products, allows the dairy processor to better serve national customers. There is a growing demand for shelf-stable beverages.

11. Keep employees employed, even if they don't work for you. Ice cream sandwich maker and baked ingredient supplier Rhino Foods participates in a unique job-sharing program in Vermont. To avoid laying off skilled employees, Rhino places them at other food processors in the area. Then, when its production calls for full staffing, it hires them back. Not only goes the program give the employee a paycheck, but also Rhino learns best practices from other manufacturers.

12. Don't lose track of inventory. Tillamook Cheese ages its Cheddars three years or more. New software gives multiple departments in the company accurate, real-time visibility into inventory and financial transactions, allowing the cheesemaker to deliver more consistently and efficiently to its customers.

13. Seize opportunities as they arise. The explosion in demand for Greek yogurt led feta cheesemaker Klondike Cheese to build a yogurt line at its plant in Monroe, Wis. The company worked with a yogurt manufacturer from Greece to develop recipes, buy equipment and set procedures.

Vote for the Plant of the Year