Did you know that American dairy exports have surged internationally? However, the increasing demand for dairy products still outweighs the rate of production. With consumers buying more dairy products than ever before, how do we keep up with the high demand while continuously producing safe products throughout the process?

The layout of a dairy processing facility, product packaging and other parts in the process heavily contribute to producing dairy products safely and efficiently. Let’s walk through the process.


Implementing productivity after the farm

Dairy farms are beginning to incorporate new technologies to increase efficiency, but the work remains heavily manual-labor-intensive. After this step, however, machinery is heavily used to accelerate the process.

Since the trucks that regularly stop at dairy farms to load the raw milk and ship back to processing plants aren’t refrigerated, only insulated, detailed management of loading times is imperative to maintaining product quality and safety.

Management of loading times also contributes to an efficient timeline. Monitoring the flow meter closely during this process can provide reliable capacity reporting. Route optimization, idle time reduction and selective truck usage can also lead to a more efficient, sustainable operation.

The raw milk then goes through a substantial amount of testing for quality and purity, and begins an extensive four-step process, including standardization, pasteurization, homogenization and packaging.

Within these four steps, dairy product processors can implement several practices focused on equipment maintenance to achieve the highest level of efficiency — the first are focused on equipment performance optimization.

It might be easy to think that keeping your processing equipment in service as long as possible is the best thing to do, but the asset can actually be past due for replacement while still performing its basic function. For example, rubber ware can accumulate unseen milk and bacteria into small pits when worn out, compromising product quality. Hoses can also develop cracks that decrease the efficiency of machines. Sticking to a regular service schedule and maintaining routine inspections will make all the difference in preventing problems in these stages before they occur.


The importance of dairy processing facility layout

The next set of best practices for optimizing dairy processing transition into where the magic happens.

If a dairy processing plant's layout isn't optimized, safety and efficiency are at risk.

Having an expert build a processing facility's plant and implementing an efficient layout can lead to fewer safety hazards and an improved workflow. It’s critical that dairy processors consider the requirements for protecting products during distribution while also merchandising and meeting shelf-life objectives.

Dairy processors should identify the rigid and flexible alternatives that will enhance operational efficiencies by, for instance, enabling faster line speeds and greater machine uptime. Our ultimate goal is to get a wholesome and safe product for our customers.

Here are some steps you can take while adjusting or creating the layout and construction of your dairy processing facility:

  • Ensure an easily accessible and contained waste generation system.
  • Minimize the distance of worker and product movement between stages.
  • Place proper floor drains and ventilation systems in all areas needed.
  • Maintain an inspection schedule for the parts of the dairy production process that are most prone to contamination.
  • Optimize the size of refrigerated areas for energy-efficiency and product storage volume.
  • Maintain pest-control measures.

It's also important to ensure that you're meeting the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) layout practices for safety and handling requirements set by the FDA.


Achieve ‘perfect packaging’ for dairy products

Then there’s the packaging to consider — both appearance and functionality. A customer is more likely to purchase your product if it visually appeals, thus reducing dairy waste from expiration. So how do we create an attractive, eye-catching package while also considering how the design will affect the shelf life of the product?

In the dairy industry, there has been an array of alternatives to increasing shelf life, including vacuum packages and packaging that contains an inert gas such as nitrogen.

Vacuum packaging removes oxygen from the product to protect it from microorganisms and spoiling quickly. However, with products such as shredded cheese, the lack of oxygen would make the cheese smash easily and harden into a ball. An alternative solution is to flush packages with an inert gas after vacuuming to enable the contents to remain at the desired pressure to protect against damage.

Shelf life is also often a pivotal factor in a product's appeal; packaging with the latest technology will not only help you get the product out the door faster, but also increase shelf life.

To help manage the packaging selection process, packaging plants should work in partnership with the vendors that can provide insights on the most appropriate applications for each dairy product.


Meet dairy demand with safety and efficiency

In direct correlation to the increased demand for dairy products, the importance of safety and efficiency in each dairy processing plant is at an all-time high. To effectively meet today’s rising demand, it’s important to keep these objectives at the forefront of your production’s focus.