State-of-the-Art Dairy Processing Plant Building Offers Education, Innovative Technology

12/15/2012 7:00 AM

Maegan Crandall

Central N.Y. Correspondent

ITHACA, N.Y. — Media and agricultural professionals recently had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the work-in-progress happening at Stocking Hall in Cornell University to get a first-hand glimpse at what the massive renovation with offer — namely one of the best food science departments in the world.

The new, innovative, 12,000-square-foot dairy plant portion of the building is due to open in May of next year and additional parts of the building — due to be completed within two years — will include state-of-the-art food chemistry labs, classrooms, a sensory evaluation center, teaching labs, a conference center, and extension offices.

“In terms of research, this facility offers a unique opportunity to do applied, cutting-edge research and training in a dairy plant that essentially mimics what you would find out in the industry today. We serve as the primary training center for our New York state dairy ag and market inspectors and we also provide hands on training for the trainers that inspect the farms in New York state. We run close to 3,000 students through the facility every year whether it be special projects, courses, or tours. Some of those may be engineering students, some may be food science students, or they may be English as a second language classes. So, there are lots of opportunities to utilize this hands-on facility,” said Jason Huck, general manager of the dairy processing plant at Cornell University.

Before the renovation began, the dairy plant produced fluid milk products, about 20,000 gallons of yogurt per year, pudding, ice cream, and Big Red Cheddar cheese. They also pasteurize and package apple cider from the Cornell orchard operation. The new design of the processing plant will offer an exceptional viewing experience of these manufacturing processes for the public, and a chance for the consumer to see how milk is processed from grass to glass.

“The processing plant is surrounded by windows in an attempt to allow transparency and to bring people closer to their food and the manufacturing of their food. On this side of the plant the conveyors will actually be sending bottles across the top of the plant in front of the glass windows and down to the bottle fillers. At that point the bottle fillers will be spinning filling the empty containers with chocolate milk, white milk products, juices, and drinkable yogurt. There will also be a public gallery that will allow a unique opportunity for the general public, for our students, and for our visitors to see dairy products being manufactured in real time. On the wall will be a series of monitors that will tell the story about dairy in New York from the milk at the farm all the way to the products being sold to the consumer,” Huck said.

According to Huck, the design of the new plant also makes a point of incorporating different and innovative types of dairy equipment that you would typically find out in the industry.

“We have a couple of specialized tanks that we built in so that if we have a company that would like to come in and process a product that they’ve developed and then bottle it and send it out for product testing for sensory analysis, we can do those types of projects here. Companies developing new products in New York and in the region will have the opportunity to come in and utilize our pilot plant and then work with our dairy plant to further develop the processing, the operational side of that product, and then hopefully get that out to launch into the market,” he said.

Indeed, the facility will allow tremendous opportunity for educational and hands-on training not only for local dairy operations but also students who will one day work in the industry.

“Hands-on training is very important and the ability of students to see the equipment running, to put their hands on it and touch it, and to take it apart. We’ve designed this facility to give those opportunities. Most dairy plants these days are high tech and we have a fully automated plant to be able to provide students with that educational need,” Huck said.

Additionally, the facility will offer a series of training courses through the year, and has developed a dairy certificate program through their extension program.

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