Matthew Ott
Matthew R. Ott, M.S., FASAE, CAE, CMP, has served as the president and CEO of the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) since June 2020. The Arlington, Va.-based company, since 2007, is comprised of its Core Partners, including the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW), the World Food Logistics Organization (WFLO), the International Refrigerated Transportation Association (IRTA), and the Controlled Environment Building Association (CEBA). GCCA’s focus is to be innovative leaders in the temperature-controlled products industry and to forge a universally strong cold chain where every product retains quality and safety through each link.

While significant changes are being made in the dairy industry, a base of consistency is critical. 

To make and store ice cream or any type of dairy product, there are key steps that must be taken, according to Dr. Charles White with Mississippi State University and the dairy product expert on the Global Cold Chain Alliance’s Scientific Advisory Council (SAC). The key steps in the process include:

  1. Use of high-quality raw milk, which requires low microbial level, reducing possibility of pathogens, temperature control, good sensory properties, rapid and safe shipment, regulatory control features for water, bacteria, and molds, etc.).
  2. In-plant storage of raw milk/cream. 
  3. Cleaned and sanitized processing equipment and lines. 
  4. Proper operating equipment. 
  5. Proper manufacturing of each product. 
  6. Marketing and distribution of product. 
  7. Protection from off-door and temperature control for all dairy products. 

White says the steps provided show the consistency required for ice cream and all dairy products.

The actual freezer life of ice cream products is a critical value to the processor from an economic standpoint as well as from a quality and food safety point. Common causes of poor freezer life can vary based on the type of products being produced. Therefore, packaging and storage temperatures are critical, according to White.

“The changes in the dairy industry are significant,” White says. “Food safety-related regulatory changes involve detailed testing with rapid response to out-of-specification product. Improved techniques in lab testing have helped on response and accountability.”

Products like ice cream have seen dramatic improvements in sensory features such as flavor and body/texture. White points out that “dairy” products including ice cream are being made from plants as well as the milk from cows, sheep and goats, and the processing requirements are similar. 

“The final decisions on these products will be made by the consumer: good idea!,” says White. 

Temperature is everything

SAC members Dr. Donald Fenton, Kansas State University, and Kees Jan Roodbergen, University of Groningen, provide this expert advice on the minimum temperature of loading docks so that ice cream will not be impacted. 

The experts point out it is not unusual for staging areas to have a temperature that is considerably higher than the required storage temperature for the product. The tolerance for higher temperatures in the staging area mostly depends on two factors: 

  1. The product itself and its packaging.
  2. How long products will be exposed to the higher temperatures.

In the case of ice cream, complications appear with temperature fluctuations. 

Ice cream products have storage temperatures of about -11 degrees Celsius (12.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and are intolerant of temperature fluctuations. When temperature fluctuations occur, even if only 2 degrees Celsius outside the recommended storage temperature, ice crystal growth occurs in ice cream. These observations suggest that temperature fluctuations should be avoided, therefore making temporary storage on docks problematic if the temperature there is about 1 degree Celsius.

Proper design measures can help in keeping temperatures in the staging area low. For example, good dock seals are imperative, and a vehicle restraint can hold the trailer tightly against the dock seal to prevent temperature leaks.

Moving already frozen goods into storage quickly may be more important than having a blast freezer in the staging area. In addition, it is helpful to actively monitor the time the ice cream products stay in staging. Products should be actively monitored and notifications generated if the process takes too long for specific pallets. 

From the ice cream capital

It’s not just the scientific experts that know their ice cream. Scott Albers, president of Nor-Am Cold Storage, knows that consistency is king — and this is especially true when storing dairy products. 

“Our dairy partners trust us to be able to keep a consistent temperature in the building regardless of the heat load coming in, and on the hottest July day of the year,” Albers says. Having extra capacity in refrigeration systems to be able to hold a consistent temperature no matter what variables may come along is critically important, he adds.

Albers says they’re lucky to be headquartered in Le Mars, Iowa, the Ice Cream Capital of the World. Founded in 1999, Nor-Am Cold Storage has expertly handled ice cream and dairy since it opened its doors almost 25 years ago.  

“In our experience, the dairy industry is thriving and we see all of our dairy customers as valued partners in a vital sector,” Albers says. In fact, dairy has become a key component in the company’s overall customer profile — from Dodge City, Kan., all the way up to Wisconsin.

He concludes: “Dairy may have some unique temperature specifications, but when you are able to adapt to the dairy industry’s needs and build trust by actually doing what you say you can do, they’re an amazing partner to work with.”